Physical and chemical data were collected from May 1991 through April 1993 at a 4.5 hectare field site in Cumberland County, Pa., about 5 kilometers southeast of Newville. These data were used to define the hydrogeologic setting of a field site representative of the intensively farmed carbonate valleys of southeastern and south-central Pennsylvania. The environmental processing of commonly used pesticides (herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides) in the unsaturated zone was simulated with a process- oriented digital model to evaluate the environmental fate and transport of pesticides to ground water. Site data and modelling results provide a basis for a discussion of water-quality implications of agricultural best-management practices. The carbonate valleys of Pennsylvania comprise regolith-mantled carbonate-rock terrains that consist of broad undulating upland areas dissected by mostly dry valleys and widely spaced spring-fed creeks. The upland areas are farmed and exhibit possess a doline karst topography with many closed depressions, sinkholes, and bedrock outcrops. Unsaturated materials at the field site consist of an almost continuous soil cover composed of fine-grained residuum underlain by an intermediate vadose zone composed of karstified limestone. Soils are absent on scattered bedrock outcrops and are more than 12 meters thick in other areas of the site. The soil profile stores appreciable quantities of water with a volumetric average of about 36 percent water at field capacity. Organic carbon content of soil materials is about 1.7 percent in the Ap-horizon and from 0.1 to 0.3 percent throughout the full thickness of the B- and C-horizons. Atrazine, metolachlor, simazine, and the atrazine soil metabolites deethylatrazine and deisopropylatrazine were detected at concentrations above 0.05 mg/L in just the upper 0.6 meters of soil materials. However, detectable concentrations of atrazine, simazine, and atrazine soil metabolites were measured in water samples from lysimeters installed in soil materials at depths of 1.2, 2.1, and 3.7 meters and from monitor wells completed in the saturated zone to depths of 122 meters. Data collected from the field site were used to configure a pesticide screening model based on the pesticide version of the leaching estimation and chemistry model (LEACHP) developed by Wagenet and Hutson (1987). Model simulations show that most field-applied pesticides volatilize to the atmosphere, accumulate in soils, degrade in the subsurface environment, or leach to ground water. Model results were used to rank the leaching potentials of 66 pesticides. Eighteen of 32 herbicides, 4 of 9 fungicides, and 10 of 25 insecticides have moderate to large potential for leaching to ground water. A review of available pesticide monitoring data suggests that many compounds given moderate or high leaching potentials have not been tested for in ground water and the presence of pesticides in Pennsylvania's ground water may be underreported. Monitoring data do not exist for more than two-thirds of the pesticide compounds currently used in agricultural, carbonate areas of Pennsylvania. Knowledge of processes that govern fate and transport of pesticides is needed to facilitate development of effective pesticide best-management practices. In addition to comprehensive monitoring for pesticides and pesticide degradation products in ground water downgradient of areas of pesticide use, improved (1) characterization of unsaturated flow and transport through regolith mantled carbonate rocks, (2) estimates of pesticide degradation rates, (3) understanding of soil-property controls on pesticide movement, and (4) management models developed from process-oriented research would aid in understanding the processes.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Hydrogeologic setting and simulation of pesticide fate and transport in the unsaturated zone of a regolith-mantled, carbonate-rock terrain near Newville, Pennsylvania