Pesticide residues in European agricultural soils – A hidden reality unfolded

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Abstract

Pesticide use is a major foundation of the agricultural intensification observed over the last few decades. As a result, soil contamination by pesticide residues has become an issue of increasing concern due to some pesticides' high soil persistence and toxicity to non-target species. In this study, the distribution of 76 pesticide residues was evaluated in 317 agricultural topsoil samples from across the European Union. The soils were collected in 2015 and originated from 11 EU Member States and 6 main cropping systems. Over 80% of the tested soils contained pesticide residues (25% of samples had 1 residue, 58% of samples had mixtures of two or more residues), in a total of 166 different pesticide combinations. Glyphosate and its metabolite AMPA, DDTs (DDT and its metabolites) and the broad-spectrum fungicides boscalid, epoxiconazole and tebuconazole were the compounds most frequently found in soil samples and the compounds found at the highest concentrations. These compounds occasionally exceeded their predicted environmental concentrations in soil but were below the respective toxic endpoints for standard in-soil organisms. Maximum individual pesticide content assessed in a soil sample was 2.05 mg kg−1 while maximum total pesticide content was 2.87 mg kg−1. This study reveals that the presence of mixtures of pesticide residues in soils are the rule rather than the exception, indicating that environmental risk assessment procedures should be adapted accordingly to minimize related risks to soil life and beyond. This information can be used to implement monitoring programs for pesticide residues in soil and to trigger toxicity assessments of mixtures of pesticide residues on a wider range of soil species in order to perform more comprehensive and accurate risk assessments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1532-1545
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Volume653
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2019

Keywords

  • Agricultural soils
  • European Union
  • Mixtures of pesticide residues
  • Predicted environmental concentrations in soil (PECs)
  • Risk assessment

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