Selected pesticides are detectable at low levels (generally less than 0.1 microgram per liter) in unconfined ground water in many parts of the Maryland Coastal Plain. Samples were recently collected (2001-04) from 47 wells in the Coastal Plain and analyzed for selected pesticides and degradate compounds (products of pesticide degradation). Most pesticide degradation occurs in the soil zone before infiltration to the water table, and degradates of selected pesticides were commonly detected in ground water, often at higher concentrations than their respective parent compounds. Pesticides and their degradates often occur in ground water in mixtures of multiple compounds, reflecting similar patterns in usage. All measured concentrations in ground water were below established standards for drinking water, and nearly all were below other health-based guidelines. Although drinking-water standards and guidelines are typically much higher than observed concentrations in ground water, they do not exist for many detected compounds (particularly degradates), or for mixtures of multiple compounds.
The distribution of observed pesticide compounds reflects known usage patterns, as well as chemical properties and environmental factors that affect the fate and transport of these compounds in the environment. Many commonly used pesticides, such as glyphosate, pendimethalin, and 2,4-D were not detected in ground water, likely because they were sorbed onto organic matter or degraded in the soil zone. Others that are more soluble and (or) persistent, like atrazine, metolachlor, and several of their degradates, were commonly detected in ground water where they have been used. Atrazine, for example, an herbicide used primarily on corn, was most commonly detected in ground water on the Eastern Shore (where agriculture is common), particularly where soils are well drained. Conversely, dieldrin, an insecticide previously used heavily for termite control, was detected only on the Western Shore, where urban land is more common. Use of dieldrin was suspended in 1987, but this compound is relatively persistent in the environment, and several decades are typically required for ground water to move completely through the surficial aquifer. U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey USGS Fact Sheet FS 2006-3119 2006 Location of the Maryland Coastal Plain.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Pesticides in Ground Water of the Maryland Coastal Plain
Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia Water Science Center