Members of the Newport Catchment Focus Group at their inaugural meeting.

Six agencies join forces to resolve Newport pesticide issue

Irish Water has joined forces with six other agencies in Co. Mayo to try to find solutions to an ongoing problem with pesticide exceedances in the Newport public water supply.

The pesticides glyphosate and MCPA have both been detected at levels that exceed the allowed parametric value under EU and Irish regulations and as a result, the Environmental Protection Agency has put the Newport water supply on its Remedial Action List (RAL) where it will remain until the issue is resolved. The RAL is a list of at-risk water supplies.

While the HSE has advised that the levels seen do not represent a threat to public health, it is undesirable and it is therefore imperative that users of pesticides are mindful of best practice when spraying their lands.

Irish Water, Teagasc, the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, Local Authority Water Programme, Mayo County Council, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, and the Animal and Plant Health Association (APHA) have come together to engage in an education and awareness campaign in the Newport area in an effort to encourage users of pesticides to ensure they follow best practice.

Explaining why this collaborative effort is necessary, Irish Water’s drinking water compliance specialist Dr. Pat O’Sullivan said: “Irish Water does not have a treatment option to remove pesticides when they are detected in drinking water and the utility does not have enforcement powers in the surrounding catchment area. Therefore it is important that all relevant bodies who can help solve this issue come together to form a catchment focus group to discuss this problem at a local level, pool resources and expertise in a coordinated effort to solve this persistent problem.

“Irish Water wishes to reduce the risk posed by pesticides by raising awareness and through engagement and collaboration. Primarily we do this through our involvement with the National Pesticide and Drinking Water Action Group and through local catchment focus groups where necessary.”

The National Pesticide and Drinking Water Action Group (NPDWAG) is chaired by the DAFM and was formed to provide a coordinated and collaborative approach to prevent the ongoing prevalence of pesticides in catchments used for the abstraction of drinking water.

Adding to this, Dr. Aidan Moody, chair of NPDWAG, commented: “The continued engagement of all stakeholders, working in partnership, is needed to tackle this issue. Users of pesticides must always consider in the first instance if there are alternative non-chemical weed/pest control methods that would be feasible. If pesticides have to be applied, users must make sure that they are aware of and follow best practice measures to protect water quality.”

Great care must always be taken to protect drinking water supplies wherever pesticide use is considered necessary, particularly if using products for grassland weed control containing substances such as MCPA, fluroxypyr and 2,4-D. These substances, and others, have been detected in drinking water supplies across Ireland. While there is no threat to public health, the detected levels sometimes exceed the legally permitted limit value for pesticides in drinking water, which is set at an extremely low value (equivalent to one drop in an Olympic-sized swimming pool).

MCPA, which is commonly used to kill rushes on wet land, is the main offender, but other pesticides such as 2,4-D, fluroxypyr, glyphosate and MCPP (also known as mecoprop) are being detected more frequently than in previous years. Careless storage, handling or improper application of any pesticide product can easily result in traces ending up in drinking water, leading to breaches of the drinking water regulations. Users of pesticides are asked to carefully consider how these products may access water courses via rainwater drains, drainage channels or other means before application.

The regulations are so stringent that a single drop of pesticide is enough to breach the drinking water limit in a small stream for up to 30 kilometres. This clearly highlights the level of care needed to protect drinking water sources.

Irish Water, working in partnership with the NPDWAG, would like to remind farmers, sporting organisations and professional users of pesticides of the need to follow best practice in the application of pesticides, particularly near lakes and rivers used as drinking water sources. A video on the correct use of MCPA can be viewed on Irish Water’s YouTube, while information leaflets on pesticide use are also available to download from the Teagasc website at