Pesticides from cattle feedlots may threaten Texas wetlands

Across northwest Texas, from the panhandle south past Midland, nearly 20,000 shallow, watery basins dot the landscape. Locals call them mud holes, buffalo wallows, or lagoons, but they are technically known as playas. As oases in the landscape, these wetland areas act as recharge points for the Ogallala Aquifer and play a critical role in sustaining life in northwest Texas.

Another mainstay of northwest Texas are the cattle farms that sprawl across the flatland. Texas boasts 14% of the nation’s cattle — about 13 million animals — and cattle operations make up more than half the market value produced by Texas farmers, bringing in billions of dollars in sales each year.

But now, new research is adding evidence that pesticides used at cattle feed lots to protect animals from potentially disease-carrying insects may be posing a dire threat to the ecosystems of the playas.

Researchers from Texas Tech University said in a paper published in Environmental Pollution that insecticides known as pyrethroids were detected in sediment from 75% of the state’s playa wetlands. The concentration of pyrethroids detected correlated with the wetland’s proximity to a feedlot — the closer the wetland was to a feedlot, the higher the pyrethroid concentration in the sediment.