So much for drinking rainwater if you live in Europe : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

It's raining pesticides

Fred Pearce and Debora Mackenzie

RAIN IS NOT what it used to be. A new study reveals that much of the precipitation in Europe contains such high levels of dissolved pesticides that it would be illegal to supply it as drinking water.

Studies in Switzerland have found that rain is laced with toxic levels of atrazine, alachlor and other commonly used crop sprays. "Drinking water standards are regularly exceeded in rain," says Stephan M|ller, a chemist at the Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology in D|bendorf. The chemicals appear to have evaporated from fields and become part of the clouds.

Both the European Union and Switzerland have set a limit of 100 nanograms for any particular pesticide in a litre of drinking water. But, especially in the first minutes of a heavy storm, rain can contain much more than that.

In a study to be published by M|ller and his colleague Thomas Bucheli in Analytical Chemistry this summer, one sample of rainwater contained almost 4000 nanograms per litre of 2,4-dinitrophenol, a widely used pesticide. Previously, the authors had shown that in rain samples taken from 41 storms, nine contained more than 100 nanograms of atrazine per litre, one of them around 900 nanograms.

In the latest study, the highest concentrations of pesticides turned up in the first rain after a long dry spell, particularly when local fields had recently been sprayed. Until now, scientists had assumed that the pesticides only infiltrated groundwater directly from fields.

M|ller warns that the growing practice of using rainwater that falls onto roofs to recharge underground water may be adding to the danger. This water often contains dissolved herbicides that had been added to roofing materials, such as bitumen sheets, to prevent vegetation growing. He suggests that the first flush of rains should be diverted into sewers to minimise the pollution of drinking water, which is not usually treated to remove these herbicides and pesticides.

Meanwhile, Swedish researchers have linked pesticides to one of the most rapidly increasing cancers in the Western world. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which has risen by 73 per cent in the US since 1973, is probably caused by several commonly used crop sprays, say the scientists.

Lennart Hardell of Orebro Medical Centre and Mikael Eriksson of Lund University Hospital found Swedish sufferers of the disease were 2.7 times more likely to have been exposed to MCPA, a widely used weedkiller, than healthy people (Cancer, vol 85 p 1353).

MCPA, which is used on grain crops, is sold as Target by the Swiss firm Novartis. In addition, patients were 3.7 times more likely to have been exposed to a range of fungicides, an association not previously reported.

The patients were also 2.3 times more likely to have had contact with glyphosate, the most commonly used herbicide in Sweden. Use of this chemical, sold as Round-Up by the US firm Monsanto, is expected to rocket with the introduction of crops, such as Roundup-Ready soya beans, that are genetically modified to resist glyphosate. The researchers suggest that the chemicals have suppressed the patients' immunity, allowing viruses such as Epstein-Barr to trigger cancer.

-- y2k con (a@b.c), April 01, 1999


Very important concept here, one that many probably haven't considered: is the water we plan to catch any better than the stuff we'll get from the local sewer?

Anyone know of a link to reliable source that evaluates rainwater geographically?

Of course, I would guess that air quality is not the main concern, although this could be a dynamic situation. Many pollutants come and go.

We plan to use a tarp-like surface in our catchment system, and route it directly into large water drums.

-- Sara Nealy (, April 02, 1999.

Which is why I got the Berkefeld filter--- it does what needs to be done.

British Berkefeld Gravity Water Filters (scroll down the page a bit)

Then read the chart: Specifications
-- Tom Carey (, April 02, 1999.

Right, Tom. The Berkefeld seems to be one of the top two to buy; Katadyn is reputed to be right up there, also.

I am also planning to filter as a step. Many folks on a strict budgt can't afford either model and may want to consider a SOLAR STILL.

-- Sara Nealy (, April 02, 1999.

Consumer Reports did a study of fresh fruits and vegetables a couple of months ago. I don't have the issue handy (i.e., it's in one of those piles of stuff somewhere) but I do remember being shocked by the fact that US produce very often shows higher levels of pesticides than foreign produce--except, especially, for Chilean grapes. Basically, the thicker-skinned the produce, the safer you are (if you discard the skin). I've been eating a lot of navel oranges and fava beans lately. . .

-- Old Git (, April 02, 1999.

This is a problem. Even if you are out of a city the toxic chemicals are a problem in rain and particularly snow as it is accumulated over time. Up north using snow is not recommended for drinking. Toxic levels have been high in the animals up there. And that is in the high arctic. I would value a local spring.


-- Brian (, April 02, 1999.

"Right, Tom. The Berkefeld seems to be one of the top two to buy; Katadyn is reputed to be right up there, also. "

WRONG! The Big Berkey and the Katadyns use ceramic filters that only filter-out sediment and the larger micro-organisms. Smaller micro-organisms (mostly viruses) and more to the point here, chemicals are NOT filtered-out by the Berkey or Katadyns.

The only exception is when a carbon-filter is used in conjunction with the ceramic - a little bit of some chemicals is filtered-out by the carbon-filter, but not much.

I have a Katadyn, and am VERY happy to have it. But it alone is not sufficient. Between filtering, boiling and Clorox, micro-organisms are easy to deal with. Salt and other Chemicals are another story. Here is a link for more info:


-- Anonymous99 (, April 02, 1999.

Sahra, Read the article again!! A solar still will NOT help against those chemicals. It apears that the evaporation point is lower or close to water so it will be in your drinking water. Using a solar still is NOT as save as many want you to believe. Any substance that is evaporating below 100 deg C WILL be in your water. This includes 99% of all petrol liquids, and many a chemical such as sertein fertilizers. To find out more get a chemical handbook and look at the point of evapuration of substances.Use a still only if you have no other choice and be sure to use water that is chemicly NOT overpoluted.

-- I lookt it up (, April 02, 1999.

Anonymous says, "chemicals are NOT filtered-out by the Berkey or Katadyns.

I read it differently. According to the spec sheet, each Doulton Super Sterasyl Element typically contains 120,000 square meters (surface area) of activated carbon. See (again) the Specifications sheet.

The unit I have has 4 elements. I'll be involved with at least ten people and need the volume -- (to 20 gallons per day).

-- Tom Carey (, April 02, 1999.

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