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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances


U.S. Geological Survey Toxic Substances Hydrology Program--Proceedings of the Technical Meeting Charleston South Carolina March 8-12,1999--Volume 2 of 3--Contamination of Hydrologic Systems and Related Ecosystems, Water-Resources Investigation Report 99-4018B

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Trends in Annual Herbicide Loads from the Mississippi River Basin to the Gulf of Mexico

By Gregory M. Clark and Donald A. Goolsby

This report is available in pdf format: pdfClark .pdf


Analyses of water samples collected from the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, during 1991-97 indicate that hundreds of metric tons of herbicides and herbicide metabolites are being discharged annually to the Gulf of Mexico. Atrazine, metolachlor, and the ethane-sulfonic acid metabolite of alachlor (alachlor ESA) were the most frequently detected herbicides and, in general, were present in the largest concentrations. Almost 80% of the annual herbicide load to the Gulf of Mexico occurred during the growing season from May through August. The concentrations and loads of alachlor in the Mississippi River decreased dramatically after 1993 in response to decreased use in the basin. In contrast, the concentrations and loads of acetochlor increased after 1994, reflecting its role as a replacement for alachlor. The peak annual herbicide load occurred in 1993, when about 640 metric tons of atrazine, 320 metric tons of cyanazine, 215 metric tons of metolachlor, 53 metric tons of simazine, and 50 metric tons of alachlor were discharged to the Gulf of Mexico. The annual loads of atrazine and cyanazine were generally 1 to 2% of the amount annually applied in the Mississippi River drainage basin; the annual loads of acetochlor, alachlor, and metolachlor were generally less than 1%. Despite a reduction in atrazine use, historical data do not indicate a long-term downward trend in the atrazine load to the Gulf of Mexico. Although a relation (r2=0.62) exists between the atrazine load and stream discharge during May through August, variations in herbicide use and rainfall patterns within subbasins can have a large effect on herbicide loads in the Mississippi River Basin and probably explain a large part of the annual variation in atrazine load to the Gulf of Mexico.

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