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Ten pesticide exceedances in Donegal drinking water supplies in 2019 and 2020

Public urged to consider alternatives to pesticides for gardening, farming and maintenance of sports grounds

Ten pesticide exceedances in Donegal  drinking water supplies in 2019 and 2020

Minimising pesticide use not only helps to protect water quality but also has wider environmental benefits

Ten exceedances for the pesticides 2,4-D and MCPA were detected in the public drinking water supplies in Ballymagroarty and Donegal (River Eske) in 2020 and in Fanad East (Shannagh) in 2019 and 2020.

MCPA is an active substance present in many commonly used herbicide products used to control the growth of thistles, docks and rushes and remains the most commonly detected pesticide in Ireland.

These exceedances were detected as part of Irish Water’s public water supply monitoring programme.

Ballymagroarty, Donegal (River Eske) and Fanad East (Shannagh) drinking water supplies abstract raw water from Lough Gorman, River Eske and Shannagh Lake respectively, all of which are vulnerable to runoff from land.

Irish Water is asking users of any herbicide or pesticide products in these catchments to consider the vulnerability of the water supplies to pesticide contamination and the importance of these supplies to the local homes and businesses in the community.

Irish Water, working in partnership with a range of organisations involved in the National Pesticides and Drinking Water Action Group (NPDWAG), is asking the farming community, greens keepers, grounds keepers, and domestic users, to consider in each case whether they need to use pesticides at all.

Minimising pesticide use not only helps to protect water quality but also has wider environmental benefits. For example, leaving areas unsprayed can help native flowering plant species to grow and support a range of insects including bees and other vital pollinators.

One third of Ireland’s bee species are threatened with extinction and by helping the bee population survive and thrive we are also helping to protect our precious water sources.

For more information on practical ways to help bees and other pollinators, check out the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan at

Where pesticide use is considered necessary, the NPDWAG is working with the community to ensure that best practice measures to protect drinking water sources and biodiversity are always followed.

Farmers and other landholders dealing with the challenge of tackling rushes should note that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has developed new guidance on the sustainable management of rushes.

The new approach is based on the concepts of containment or suppression, and aims to minimise the use of pesticides.

More information on this can be obtained from your local farm advisor or on

The efforts to reduce the incidence and level of these detections are being coordinated by the NPDWAG. This group is chaired by the DAFM.

All of the key stakeholders are represented in this group and include other Government departments and agencies; local authorities; industry representative bodies; farming organisations; water sector organisations; and amenity sector organisations.

Dr Pat O’Sullivan, Irish Water’s Regional Drinking Water Compliance Specialist said: “In Co Donegal, the exceedances of the drinking water regulations for pesticides were noted in the Ballymagroarty, Donegal (River Eske) and Fanad East (Shannagh) public water supplies following routine sampling. What’s disappointing is that there were no exceedances in the Ballymagroarty or Donegal (River Eske) catchments in 2019, however there were two in 2020.

“While our consultation with the HSE has concluded that the levels seen do not represent a threat to public health, it is however undesirable and therefore imperative that users of pesticides are mindful of best practice when using herbicides or pesticides and seek out alternatives.”

Adding to this, Dr Aidan Moody, DAFM and chairman of NPDWAG commented: “The continued engagement of all stakeholders, working in partnership, is needed to tackle this issue. Users of pesticides should always consider alternatives in the first instance and if pesticides are essential make sure that they are aware of the best practice measures that should be followed to protect water quality.”

Recent drinking water monitoring results for Ireland show that a number of active substances contained in herbicide products used in agriculture, amenity and gardens, such as 2,4-D, fluroxypyr, glyphosate, MCPA, mecoprop and triclopyr, are being regularly detected.

Further guidance

A video on the best practice use and application of products containing MCPA can be viewed on Irish Water’s YouTube channel at

Information leaflets on pesticide use are also available to download from the Teagasc website at

A guide providing 10 easy steps towards responsible pesticide use in public and amenity and garden areas is available at

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