American Journal of Alternative Agriculture


Agricultural chemicals in ground water: Extent and implications

George R. Hallberga1

a1 Supervisor of Environmental Geology, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Geological Survey Bureau, Iowa City, IA 52242


The accelerated use of agricultural chemicals over the past 20–30 years has increased production and generally has been profitable, but it has also had an adverse impact on ground water quality in many major agricultural areas. The contamination of ground water, related to nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides, from widespread, routine land application, as well as from point sources has become a serious concern. Ground water contamination also impairs surface water quality. Research, world-wide, has shown increases in NO3-N in ground water concurrent with major increases in N-fertilization. Many shallow ground water supplies now exceed recommended NO3-N drinking water standards. While many sources contribute N into the environment, synthetic fertilizers have become the major component. There are clear economic incentives to improve management; harvested crops often account for less than 50 percent of the purchased fertilizer inputs. Pesticides are appearing in ground water with unanticipated frequency, and while their concentrations are generally below acute toxic levels, many are of concern for possible chronic effects. Such widespread contamination is of real concern because of the potential for long-term and widespread exposure of the public through drinking water. Surveys of farmers indicate a desire to improve management practices and reduce chemical inputs. Promoting the principles of alternative, sustainable agriculture is a necessary element in the resolution of these problems.