Experts Say Pesticides Harming Chesapeake Bay, Urge Action

July 31, 2009|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

A group of environmental advocates and experts is warning that pesticide pollution from farm fields and households is contributing to the Chesapeake Bay's decline, and may well be linked to declines in frogs across the region and intersex fish seen in the Potomac River.

In a report released Thursday, the group calls on federal, state and local governments to accelerate research into the threat of pesticide contamination to the bay and to step up efforts to reduce such pollution.

"The thing that alarms us the most are the endocrine disruptors and the findings that have come out about intersex fish and frogs with reproductive problems," said Robert SanGeorge, director of the Pesticides and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Project. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that mimic the natural hormones in humans or animals and can disrupt their growth and reproduction.

The project is a partnership between the Maryland Pesticides Network and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Their warning and recommendations are the product of two years' study, in consultation with scientists, public health experts, government officials, watermen, environmentalists, farmers and pest management industries.

The report comes as federal and state governments attempt to jump-start the 26-year-old effort to restore the bay. The multistate bay campaign has focused mainly on reducing nutrient pollution from sewage, farm and lawn fertilizer, power plants and vehicles. But the report argues that not enough attention is being paid to the potential harm being done by pesticides, primarily herbicides that wash off fields but also the many household chemical products that are washed down sewers.

"There's no smoking gun," SanGeorge says, acknowledging the lack of conclusive research showing that toxic chemicals in the bay and its tributaries are harming fish and wildlife and bay grasses. But he points to studies suggesting problems and "enormous data gaps" that need to be filled.

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