Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Containing arsenic-enriched groundwater tracing lead isotopic compositions of common arsenical pesticides in a coastal Maine watershed

January 1, 2006

Arsenical pesticides and herbicides were extensively used on apple, blueberry, and potato crops in New England during the first half of the twentieth century. Lead arsenate was the most heavily used arsenical pesticide until it was officially banned. Lead arsenate, calcium arsenate, and sodium arsenate have similar Pb isotope compositions: 208Pb207Pb = 2.3839-2.4722, and 206Pb207Pb = 1.1035-1.2010. Other arsenical pesticides such as copper acetoarsenite (Paris green), methyl arsonic acid and methane arsonic acid, as well as arsanilic acid are widely variable in isotope composition. Although a complete understanding of the effects of historical use of arsenical pesticides is not available, initial studies indicate that arsenic and lead concentrations in stream sediments in New England are higher in agricultural areas that intensely used arsenical pesticides than in other areas. The Pb isotope compositions of pesticides partially overlap values of stream sediments from areas with the most extensive agricultural use. The lingering effects of arsenical pesticide use were tested in a detailed geochemical and isotopic study of soil profiles from a watershed containing arsenic-enriched ground water in coastal Maine. Acid-leach compositions of the soils represent lead adsorbed to mineral surfaces or held in soluble minerals (Fe- and Mn-hydroxides, carbonate, and some micaceous minerals), whereas residue compositions likely reflect bedrock compositions. The soil profiles contain labile Pb (acid-leach) showing a moderate range in 206Pb 207Pb (1.1870-1.2069), and 208Pb207Pb (2.4519-2.4876). Isotope values vary as a function of depth: the lowest Pb isotope ratios (e.g.,208Pb206Pb) representing labile lead are in the uppermost soil horizons. Lead contents decrease with depth in the soil profiles. Arsenic contents show no clear trend with depth. A multi-component mixing scheme that included lead from the local parent rock (Penobscot Formation), lead derived from combustion of fossil fuels, and possibly lead from other anthropogenic sources (e.g., pesticides), could account for Pb isotope variations in the soil profiles. In agricultural regions, our preliminary data show that the extensive use of arsenical pesticides and herbicides can be a significant anthropogenic source of arsenic and lead to stream sediments and soils.

Publication Year 2006
Title Containing arsenic-enriched groundwater tracing lead isotopic compositions of common arsenical pesticides in a coastal Maine watershed
Authors Robert A. Ayuso, Nora K. Foley, Glipin R. Robinson, A.S. Colvin, G. Lipfert, A.S. Reeve
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70033635
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Eastern Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center