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Pesticides in Surface Water of the Mid-Atlantic Region

By Ferrari, Matthew J.; Ator, Scott W.; Blomquist, Joel D.; Dysart, Joel E

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Abstract

Water-quality data from 463 surface-water sites were compiled and analyzed to document the occurrence and distribution of pesticides in surface water of the Mid-Atlantic region as part of the Mid-Atlantic Integrated Assessment program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Those data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey from October 1973 through March 1997 were used in the analyses. Data are available for a large part of the Mid-Atlantic region, but large spatial gaps in the data do exist.

USGS data bases contained analyses of surface-water samples for 127 pesticide compounds, including 12 degradates, but only 16 of the compounds were commonly detected. Atrazine, metolachlor, simazine, prometon, alachlor, tebuthiuron, cyanazine, diazinon, carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, pendimethalin, 2,4-D, dieldrin, DCPA, metribuzin, and desethylatrazine (an atrazine degradate) were detected in more than 100 of the samples analyzed. At least one pesticide was detected in about 75 percent of the samples collected and at more than 90 percent of the sites sampled. Concentrations greater than the Federal Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for drinking water of 3 micrograms per liter (ug/L) for atrazine were found in 67 of 2,076 samples analyzed; concentrations greater than the MCL of 2ug/L for alachlor were found in 13 of 1,693 samples analyzed, and concentrations greater than the MCL of 4 ug/L for simazine were found in 17 of 1,995 samples analyzed. Concentrations of four pesticides were greater than Federal Health Advisory levels for drinking water, and concentrations of nine pesticides were greater than Federal Ambient Water-Quality Criteria for the Protection of Aquatic Organisms.

Streams draining basins with different land uses tend to have different pesticide detection frequencies and median concentrations. Median concentrations of herbicides tend to be highest in streams draining basins in which the major land use is agriculture, whereas median concentrations of insecticides tend to be highest in streams draining extensively urbanized basins. Concentrations of both herbicides and insecticides are usually highest during the spring and summer, although many pesticides are present at low concentrations in surface water throughout the year.

Pesticide concentrations vary greatly seasonally and over different hydrologic conditions, with overall variation sometimes exceeding four orders of magnitude. During periods of pesticide application (typically spring and summer), the occurrence of selected pesticides in some streams in the Mid-Atlantic region is related to streamflow. Correlations between concentrations of selected pesticides and streamflow are statistically significant during spring and summer for small (draining less than 55 square miles) streams. Concentrations of selected pesticides in small streams increase during high flows in the growing season, up to 30 times the concentrations present during low-flow conditions in the growing season. In small streams draining urban areas, concentrations of atrazine decrease during high-flow events but concentrations of the insecticides diazinon and chlorpyrifos increase. This may be due to the differences in the pesticides used in agricultural and urban areas and the amounts applied.


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