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New-generation pesticides are prevalent in California's Central Coast streams

October 7, 2021

Pesticides are widely recognized as important biological stressors in streams, especially in heavily developed urban and agricultural areas like the Central California Coast region. We assessed occurrence and potential toxicity of pesticides in small streams in the region using two analytical methods: a broad-spectrum (223 compounds) method in use since 2012 and a newly developed method for 30 additional new-generation fungicides and insecticides. At least one pesticide compound was identified in 83 of the 85 streams sampled. About one-half (48%) of the 253 pesticides measured were detected at least once and 27 were detected in 10% or more of samples. Three of the top 4, and 6 of the top 10 most frequently detected compounds (chlorantraniliprole, dinotefuran, boscalid, thiamethoxam, clothianidin and the fluopicolide degradate 2,6-dichlorobenzamide) were analyzed by the new method. Pesticide mixtures were common, with two or more pesticide compounds detected in 81% of samples and 10 or more in 32% of samples. The pesticide count at a site was relatively consistent over the 6-week study. Four sites with mixed land-use in the lower basin (<5 km from the sampling site) tended to have the highest pesticide counts and the highest concentrations. Potential toxicity (assessed by comparison to benchmarks) to invertebrates was much more common than potential toxicity to fish or plants and was associated with a wide array of insecticides. The common occurrence of new-generation pesticides highlights the need to continuously update analytical methods to keep pace with changing pesticide use for a fuller assessment of pesticide occurrence and effects on the environment.