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Pure Appl. Chem., 1999, Vol. 71, No. 7, pp. 1359-1383


Significance of the Long Range Transport of Pesticides in the Atmosphere

J. B. Unsworth, R. D. Wauchope, A-W. Klein, E. Dorn, B. Zeeh, S. M. Yeh, M. Akerblom, K. D. Racke and B. Rubin

Abstract: Synopsis: Since the 1960’s there has been a growing body of data regarding the presence of pesticides in the atmosphere. The monitoring results obtained show that traces of pesticides may undergo long range transport and be deposited considerable distances away from the treatment areas, including remote areas such as the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Pesticides have been found in air, rain, cloud water, fog and snow. The appearance and subsequent behaviour of pesticides in the atmosphere are complex processes and the concentrations found depend on several variables such as their volatility, photostability, method of application and extent of use. Whilst volatility of pesticides can be linked to their Henry’s Law constant this is very much a simplification since it is also influenced by the surfaces treated, e.g. soil or leaves, and by the extent to which aerosols are formed during the application. The disappearance of pesticides from the atmosphere is due to hydrolysis, indirect photolysis via OH. radicals and to deposition in rain. Pesticides which are resistant to hydrolysis and photolysis can be transported over great distances, for example, organochlorine insecticides have been detected in the Arctic regions. In general, concentrations in rainwater are, when detected, in the low or sub mg/l range and highest concentrations are found during the time of application. The use of fugacity models has been shown to be a useful approach to predict concentrations in air. Under most conditions the presence of pesticides in air, or rainwater, has no significant effects on non-target systems, including direct and indirect effects. Exceptions to this are damage by auxin-type herbicides to sensitive plants which has resulted on restrictions in their use in certain areas and transient chlorotic spotting thought to be caused by drift of aerosols from application of low rate sulfonyl urea herbicides. For animal species one possible exception has been postulated. This is for persistent organochlorine pesticides in Arctic regions where, due to the very oligotrophic nature of the Arctic ocean, they are more liable to bioaccumulate and be transported in the food web giving enhanced levels in mothers’ milk.