The three most important arsenical pesticides and herbicides that were extensively used on apple, blueberry, and potato crops in New England from mid-1800s to recent times are lead arsenate, calcium arsenate, and sodium arsenate. Lead arsenate was probably the most heavily used of the arsenical pesticides until it was banned in 1988. Other metal-arsenic pesticides were also used but in lesser amounts. A recent report identified areas in New England where arsenical pesticides were used extensively (Robinson and Ayuso, 2004). On the basis of factor analysis of metal concentrations in stream sediment samples, a positive correlation with pesticide use was shown in regions having stream sediment sample populations that contained concentrations of high arsenic and lead. Lead isotope compositions of stream sediments from areas with heavy use of the pesticides could not be entirely explained by lead originating from rock sulfides and their weathering products. An industrial lead contribution (mostly from atmospheric deposition of lead) was suggested in general to explain the lead isotopic distributions of the stream sediments that could not be accounted for by the natural lead in the environment. We concluded that when agricultural land previously contaminated with arsenical pesticides is urbanized, pesticide residues in the soils and stream sediments could be released into the groundwater. No lead isotopic data characterizing the compositions of pesticides were available for comparison.
We have determined the lead isotopic compositions of commonly used pesticides in New England, such as lead arsenate, sodium metaarsenite, and calcium arsenate, in order to assist in future isotopic comparisons and to better establish anthropogenic sources of Pb and As. New data are also presented for copper acetoarsenite (or Paris green), methyl arsonic acid and methane arsonic acid, as well as for arsanilic acid, all of which are used as feed additives to promote swine and poultry growth. The new data characterize these anthropogenic sources. The data show that the arsenical pesticides have similar compositions: 208Pb/207Pb = 2.3839-2.4721, 206Pb/207Pb = 1.1035-1.2010, and 206Pb/204Pb = 17.070-18.759 and, more importantly, that the pesticides overlap the composition of the stream sediments that represent the areas with the most extensive agricultural use. Copper acetoarsenite (Paris green), arsenic oxide, methyl arsonic acid, methane arsonic acid, and arsanilic acid were also analyzed and have lead isotope compositions that range widely. An important source of arsenic and metals to most of the stream sediment samples in New England appears to be weathering products from rocks and industrial lead, but the extensive use of arsenical pesticides and herbicides up to about the 1960s can also be a significant anthropogenic source in agricultural regions.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Lead isotopic compositions of common arsenical pesticides used in New England