ISPRA, 2020 report on pesticides in water.


On 12/23/20 ISPRA published its 2020 report on pesticides in water in Italy. 299 agrotoxics were detected, in 77.3 percent of surface waters and 32.2 percent of deep waters. At concentrations that not infrequently exceed the so-called ‘safe thresholds’ allowed so far (1,2).

‘Measured concentrations are usually fractions of μg/L (parts per billion), but the harmful effects of substances can occur even at very low concentrations.’ (ISPRA).

The National Pesticide Action Plan (NAP) is the instrument in charge of mitigating chemical contamination of ecosystems. (3) But (ir)responsible authorities continue to omit due acts of office. (4)

ISPRA, data on pesticides in water.

ISPRA collected data on 16,962 samples taken at 4,775 monitoring points, including 1,980 on surface water and 2,795 in groundwater. Asymmetrical multi-residual analyses, over the various territories, detected the presence of 299 substances out of the total 426 investigated.

Out of control were 21 percent of surface water (415 monitoring points) and 5.2 percent of groundwater (146 points), where agrotoxin concentrations were found to be above environmental limits. The most recurrent substances above the allowed thresholds are:

– in surface water, herbicides (glyphosate and its metabolite AMPA, as well as metolachlor), fungicides (dimethomorph and azoxystrobin),

– in groundwater, still glyphosate and AMPA, bentazone, but also the metabolites atrazine (banned now for three decades, desethyl and desisopropyl. In addition to the fungicides triadimenol, oxadixyl and metalaxyl. (5)

Contamination on the rise, uncertainties

Contamination has increased, between 2009 and 2018. ‘In surface water, the percentage of points with pesticide presence increased by about 25 percent, in groundwater by about 15 percent.’ (6) ISPRA also attributes this phenomenon to the increased size of the sampling points. And it emphasizes, however, that the report is based on information received from the Autonomous Regions and Provinces in connection with field surveys and laboratory analyses conducted by their respective (regional and provincial) Environmental Protection Agencies.

Uncertainties arise precisely from the ‘major mismatches‘ that ‘do not easily allow a direct comparison between different territorial areas. Significant differences, in fact, there are in the density of the monitoring network, the performance of laboratories that often operate with different analytical capabilities. Finally, the number of substances sought varies significantly from region to region.’

Poisons in the Po Valley and beyond

The Po Valley in the Veneto region turns out to be the area with the most poisons in water. ‘This depends not only on the intense activities in agriculture and the particular hydrological situation of the area, but also on the fact that investigations are generally more effective in northern regions.‘ (6)

Asymmetry in the quality of surveys and analytical capabilities may, moreover, have led to an underestimation of hazards in other regions and autonomous provinces, ISPRA says between the lines. And in any case, ‘even in areas where previously not evidenced, a significant presence of pesticides in water is now emerging.’ (6)

Cocktail effect

‘The data show, as in the past, the presence of mixtures in water; with an average number of 4 substances and a maximum of 56 substances in a single sample. It should therefore be taken into account that humans, like other organisms, are often exposed to mixtures of chemicals whose composition is unknown and, therefore, their risk cannot be assessed.’ (6)

The cocktail effect-that is, the impact of the mixes of active ingredients and other substances used in the production of agrotoxics-has so far been largely overlooked by regulatory authorities. The European Commission has been condemned by the EU General Court, for impermissible delays in identifying endocrine disruptors among which glyphosate is included. (7) And the risk analysis conducted by EFSA on multiple exposure to these substances, as noted above, is still incomplete (8,9,10).

Power of choice

The narrative about the supposed ‘sustainability’ of integrated pest management in agriculture, once again, is belied by the data. Agrotoxin consumption in Italy is at least 1.6 times higher than the EU average, 12 times as much in Veneto. And the drift effect of pesticides, already amply demonstrated by science, finds further confirmation in the ISPRA report under review.

Conversion to organic is the only hope of salvation, for the agrifood economy of Italy and its districts as well as for the health of those who live there, and generations to come. To all of us the power of choice, through ‘voting with our wallets’ in our daily spending. Demand influences supply more than any other factor. And it is only by choosing organic foods, all the better from short supply chains, that we can reverse the course of increasing poisons in our waters.

Dario Dongo


(1) ISPRA (2020). National Pesticides in Water Report. Data 2017 – 2018. ISPRA, Reports 334/2020.
ISBN: 978-88-448-0986-7.
(2) Dario Dongo. Glyphosate damages the microbiome even at doses allowed in the EU. Scientific study and permit renewal application. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 15.12.19,

(3) Dario Dongo. The danger of Peter PAN. Égalité. 5.10.19,
(4) See Directive 2009/128/EC.
(5) Dario Dongo, Giulia Torre. Metalaxyl-M, Brussels renews by 15 years the authorization of the poisonous fungicide. GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 5/15/20,

(6) ISPRA, press release 23.12.20
(7) Dario Dongo. Endocrine disruptors, consultation in Brussels. GIFT(Great Italian Food Trade). 7.7.19,

(8) Alberto Mantovani. Toxic cocktails? Risk assessment of multiple exposures to endocrine disruptors. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 9/28/20,

(9) Marta Strinati. Pesticide cocktails cause toxicity, even at doses allowed in the EU. New study. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 10/24/20,à-anche-alle-dosi-ammesse-in-ue-nuovo-studio

(10) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Glyphosate, endocrine disruption and cancers. New evidence. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 11/20/20,

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.