Atrazine in drinking water: Slovakia's biggest treasure at risk

YRE Competition 2018
11-14 years old

THE LARGEST RESERVOIR OF GROUNDWATER IN CENTRAL EUROPE IS THREATENED BY THE TOXIC PESTICIDE ATRAZINE. IT WAS RECENTLY FOUND IN WATER SAMPLES FROM THE PUBLIC WATER MAINS, EVEN THOUGH IT HAS BEEN BANNED IN SLOVAKIA FOR MORE THAN 13 YEARS.

In mid-December 2017, 5,000 inhabitants of the Protected Water Zone of Žitný Ostrov remained without drinking water. The Regional Public Health Authority (RÚVZ) in Dunajská Streda found several times the exceeded limit of atrazine in the water from water mains. Atrazine is a pesticide that was used to kill weeds in the past.

PEOPLE WERE SHOCKED

Six communities were affected: Trstená na Ostrov, Baka, Jurová, Holice, Lúč na Ostrove, and Blatná na Ostrove. Their inhabitants were forbidden by authorities to use the water for drinking and cooking.

"We informed the public of the situation through announcements on the public announcement system and the village website. The phones were constantly ringing; people were curious and quite shocked," said Andrea Szemová, employee of the Holice Administration.

Thirty percent of the population is connected to the public water supply. "These families were supplied with drinking water from tanks, and during Christmas with water in barrels. Households with their own wells bought bottled water," says Mayor Imrich Vajas.

EMERGENCY AID - FILTERS

In the first months of 2018, the Western Slovak Water Company (ZSVS), which supplies potable water in the region, installed carbon filters to the public water main. They captured the atrazine. However, households using water from their wells remained unresolved. The news of water contamination surprised well owners. "We started using a carbon filter at home, but even so we buy water for drinking and cooking. Like us, those who are dependent on water from our wells are the majority in the neighborhood. It is unpleasant, even if the accidental pollution analyses of the wells have not been confirmed," said the resident of Holice municipality, Ján (58).

EXTRA INSPECTIONS

After the authorities banned water from the water supply in six communities, the Ministry of the Environment announced inspections of agricultural cooperatives near the water source. They are concentrating on compliance with the law on the use and storage of pollutants.

"The Slovak Environmental Inspection Agency has started investigations in 13 agricultural cooperatives," said Beata Matul from the agency. "Inspections are ongoing, so we cannot comment on this issue."

Young environmental reporters have been investigating whether the source of pollution is an environmental burden from the past. Veronika Katon of the Legal Department of the Ministry of the Environment wrote: "The Ministry is considering misuse of pesticides by farmers in the recent past or the illegal disposal of atrazine stocks after the ban."

CONDITION OF THE GROUNDWATER IS DETERIORATING

Pollution in Žitný Ostrov by atrazine has spread to another water source in the village of Veľká Paka. As a member of the National Council Anna Zemanová told young reporters, the amount of atrazine in the water source of Veľka Paka is on the verge of the allowable limit. In this village, there is a ban on drinking water from the water supply for pregnant women and infants.

"The pesticide must not be used. As it’s no longer accumulating, nature can cope with it. After a certain period of time it disintegrates and its presence in the groundwater is quickly diluted," said Tomáš Ferenčák, spokesman for the Ministry of the Environment.

However, environmentalist and conservationist Mikuláš Huba thinks the ministry is underestimating the problem of pollution of drinking water in Žitný Ostrov. "The quality of water is gradually deteriorating in this area. It is necessary for the ministry to continue to monitor and insist on change in the management of this most valuable protected water management area in Slovakia."

IN THE HANDS OF ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES

The Committee of the Slovak National Council for Agriculture and the Environment met in March. Members of Parliament dealt with atrazine in drinking water. Representative Anna Zemanová invited the team of Young Reporters for the Environment from Elementary School in Majcichov to present their investigation on the ground of the National Parliament.

ANNA ZEMANOVÁ GREATLY APPRECIATED THE INITIATIVE AND PROMISED THAT SHE WOULD SUBMIT A BILL AT THE MAY PARLIAMENTARY MEETING SO THAT ŽITNÝ OSTROV IS PROTECTED BY LAW AND NOT ONLY BY GOVERNMENT REGULATION.

NO GOOD CHOICE

People with their own wells are now dependent on buying bottled water. It is safe from the health point of view but it is a burden on the environment.

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NEW LEGISLATION CAN HELP

Based on the initiative of the young reporters, Mrs. Anna Zemanová, representative of the Slovak Parliament, promised to submit a new bill to better protect the biggest Slovakia´s water treasure.

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Written by students from Slovakia.