Water samples from 58 rivers and streams across the United States were analyzed for pesticides as part of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program of the U.S. Geological Survey. The sampling sites represent 37 diverse agricultural basins, 11 urban basins, and 10 basins with mixed land use. Forty-six pesticides and pesticide degradation products were analyzed in approximately 2,200 samples collected from 1992 to 1995. The target compounds account for approximately 70 percent of national agricultural use in terms of the mass of pesticides applied annually.
All the target compounds were detected in one or more samples. Herbicides generally were detected more frequently and at higher concentrations than insecticides. Nationally, 11 herbicides, 1 herbicide degradation product, and 3 insecticides were detected in more than 10 percent of samples. The number of target compounds detected at each site ranged from 7 to 37. The herbicides atrazine, metolachlor, prometon, and simazine were detected most frequently; among the insecticides, carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, and diazinon were detected the most frequently. Distinct differences in pesticide occurrence were observed in streams draining the various agricultural settings. Relatively high levels of several herbicides occurred as seasonal pulses in corn-growing areas. Several insecticides were frequently detected in areas where the dominant crops consist of orchards and vegetables. The number of pesticides detected and their concentrations were lower in wheat-growing areas than in most other agricultural areas. In most urban areas, the herbicides prometon and simazine and the insecticides carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion were commonly detected. Concentrations of pesticides rarely exceeded standards and criteria established for drinking water, but some pesticides commonly exceeded criteria established for the protection of aquatic life.