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Pesticides in the atmosphere; distribution, trends, and governing factors

November 1, 1995

A comprehensive review of existing literature on the occurrence and distribution of pesticides in the atmosphere of the United States and adjoining Canadian provinces showed that the atmosphere is an important part of the hydrologic cycle that acts to distribute and deposit pesticides in areas far removed from their application sites. A compilation of existing data shows that pesticides have been detected in the atmosphere throughout the nation. Most of the available information on pesticides in the atmosphere is from small-scale, short-term studies that seldom lasted more than one year. Only two national-scale, multi-year studies were done since the late 1960's that analyzed for a wide variety of pesticides in air that were in current use at the time. Another large-scale study was done during 1990-91, but was limited to the midwestern and northeastern United States and only analyzed for two classes of herbicides in wet deposition. Most of the pesticides analyzed for were detected in either air or rain, and represent about 25 percent of the total number of insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides in current use. The geographical distribution of studies, and the type of sampling and analysis were highly variable with most of the historical study efforts concentrated in the Great Lakes area and California. Air and rain were the main atmospheric matrices sampled, but pesticides were also detected in fog and snow. Reported pesticide concentrations in air and rain were frequently positively correlated to their regional agricultural use. Deviations from this relation could usually be explained by non-agricultural use of pesticides, sampling and analytical difficulties, and environmental persistence. High concentrations of locally used pesticides were found to occur seasonally, usually in conjunction with spring planting of row crops and warm temperatures, but high concentrations also occurred during winter months in those areas where dormant orchards were sprayed. The environmentally more persistent pesticides were detected in the atmosphere at low concen- trations throughout the year. Deposition of airborne pesticides can have significant effects on water quality, but neither the nature of nor the magnitude of these effects can be determined with certainty on the basis of the type of data currently available. The lack of consistent, long-term regional and national monitoring and study of pesticides in atmospheric matrices severely limits assessment capability.

Citation Information

Publication Year 1995
Title Pesticides in the atmosphere; distribution, trends, and governing factors
DOI 10.3133/ofr94506
Authors Michael S. Majewski, Paul D. Capel
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 94-506
Index ID ofr94506
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization

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