The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the District Department of the Environment, conducted a groundwater-quality investigation to (a) determine the presence, concentrations, and distribution of selected pesticides in groundwater, and (b) assess the presence of pesticides in groundwater in relation to selected landscape, hydrogeologic, and groundwater-quality characteristics in the shallow groundwater underlying the Anacostia River and Rock Creek watersheds in Washington, D.C. With one exception, well depths were 100 feet or less below land surface. The USGS obtained or compiled ancillary data and information on land use (2001), subsurface sediments, and groundwater samples from 17 wells in the lower Anacostia River watershed from September through December 2005, and from 14 wells in the lower Anacostia River and lower Rock Creek watersheds from August through September 2008.
Twenty-seven pesticide compounds, reflecting at least 19 different types of pesticides, were detected in the groundwater samples obtained in 2005 and 2008. No fungicides were detected. In relation to the pesticides detected, degradate compounds were as or more likely to be detected than applied (parent) compounds.
The detected pesticides chiefly reflected herbicides commonly used in urban settings for non-specific weed control or insecticides used for nonspecific haustellate insects (insects with specialized mouthparts for sucking liquid) or termite-specific control. Detected pesticides included a combination of pesticides currently (2008) in use, banned or under highly restricted use, and some that had replaced the banned or restricted-use pesticides. The presence of banned and restricted-use pesticides illustrates their continued persistence and resistance to complete degradation in the environment. The presence of the replacement pesticides indicates the susceptibility of the surficial aquifer to contamination irrespective of the changes in the pesticides used.
A preliminary review of the data collected in 2005 and 2008 indicated that differences in the surficial geology, land use (as a surrogate for pesticide use), and above-average precipitation for most of 2004 through 2008, as well as differences in the number and performance of USGS laboratory methods used, could have led to more pesticides detected in groundwater samples collected in 2008 than in groundwater samples collected in 2005. Thus, although data from both years of collection were used for interpretive analysis, emphasis was placed on the analysis of the data obtained in 2008.
The presence of pesticides in shallow groundwater (less than approximately 100 ft (feet), or 30 m (meters), below land surface) indicated at least the upper surficial aquifer in Washington, D.C. was susceptible to contamination. One or more herbicides or insecticides were detected in groundwater samples collected from 50 percent of the shallow wells sampled in 2005, and from 62 percent of the shallow wells sampled in 2008.
Differences among types of pesticides in shallow groundwater were apparent. The most frequently detected class of herbicides was the s-triazine compounds-atrazine, simazine, or prometon, or the atrazine-degradate compounds-2-chloro-4-ethylamino-6-amino-s-triazine (desethylatrazine or CIAT) and 2-chloro-4-isopropylamino-6-amino-s-triazine (hydroxyatrazine or OIET). The next most frequently detected classes of herbicides were the chloroacetanilides, including metolachlor and acetochlor, and the ureic herbicides, including diuron (and degradate, 3,4-dichloroaniline), fluometuron, metsulfuron methyl, sulfameturon, bromacil, and tebuthiuron.
Insecticides also were detected, but less frequently than herbicides, with one or more insecticides present in groundwater samples from 38 percent of shallow wells sampled in 2008. Detected insecticides included parent or degradate compounds commonly used for either nonspecific or haustellate (sucking) insects, including chlorpyri
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Pesticides in groundwater in the Anacostia River and Rock Creek watersheds in Washington, D.C., 2005 and 2008
Scientific Investigations Report
U.S. Geological Survey
Maryland, Delaware, and the District of Columbia Water Science Center