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A Method to Measure the Environmental Impact of Pesticides


Extensive data are available on the environmental effects of specific pesticides, and the data used in this project were gathered from a variety of sources. The Extension Toxicology Network (EXTOXNET), a collaborative education project of the environ-mental toxicology and pesticide education departments of Cornell University, Michigan State University, Oregon State University, and the University of California, was the primary source used in developing the database (Hotchkiss et al. 1989). EXTOXNET conveys pesticide-related information on the health and environmental effects of approximately 100 pesticides.

A second source of information used was CHEM-NEWS of CENET, the Cornell Cooperative Extension Network. CHEM-NEWS is a computer program maintained by the Pesticide Man-agement and Education Program of Cornell University that contains approximately 310 US EPA - Pesticide Fact Sheets, describing health, ecological, and environmental effects of the pesticides that are required for the reregistration of these pesticides (Smith and Barnard 1992).

The impact of pesticides on arthropod natural enemies was determined by using the SELCTV database developed at Oregon State (Theiling and Croft 1988). These authors searched the literature and rated the effect of about 400 agrichemical pesticides on over 600 species of arthropod natural enemies, translating all pesticide/natural enemy response data to a scale ranging from one (0% effect) to five (90-100% effect).

Leaching, surface loss potentials (runoff), and soil half-life data of approximately 100 compounds are contained in the National Pesticide/Soils Database developed by the USDA Agricultural Research Service and Soil Conservation Service. This database was developed from the GLEAMS computer model that simulates leaching and surface loss potential for a large number of pesticides in various soils and uses statistical methods to evaluate the interactions between pesticide properties (solubility, adsorption coefficient, and half-life) and soil properties (surface horizon thickness, organic matter content, etc.). The variables that provided the best estimate of surface loss and leaching were then selected by this model and used to classify all pesticides into risk groups (large, medium, and small) according to their potential for leaching or surface loss.

Bee toxicity was determined using tables by Morse ( 1989) in the 1989 New York State pesticide recommendations, which contain information on the relative toxicity of pesticides to honey bees from laboratory and field tests conducted at the University of California, Riverside from 1950 to 1980. More than 260 pesticides are listed in this reference.

In order to fill as many data gaps as possible, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and technical bulletins developed by the agricultural chemical industry were also used when available.

Health and environmental factors that addressed some of the common concerns expressed by farm workers, consumers, pest management practitioners, and other environmentalists were evaluated and are listed in Figure 1 (1Mb pdf file). To simplify the interpretation of the data, the toxicity of the active ingredient of each pesticide and the effect on each environmental factor evaluated were grouped into low, medium, or high toxicity categories and rated on a scale from one to five, with one having a minimal impact on the environment or of a low toxicity and five considered to be highly toxic or having a major negative effect on the environment.

Table 1 lists the specific ratings for the individual factors evaluated. All pesticides were evaluated using the same criteria except for the mode of action and plant surface persistence of herbicides. Because herbicides are generally systemic in nature and are not normally applied to food crops we decided to consider this class of compounds differently, so all herbicides were given a value of one for systemic activity. This has no effect on the relative rankings within herbicides, but it does make the consumer component of the equation for herbicides more realistic. Also, since plant surface persistence is only important for post-emergent herbicides and not pre-emergent herbicides, all post-emergent herbicides were assigned a value of three and pre-emergent herbicides assigned a value of one for this factor.

Table l. The rating system used to develop the environmental impact quotient of pesticides (EIQ) model. l = least toxic or least harmful, 5 = most toxic or harmful.

Mode of Action
non-systemic- 1
all herbicides - 1
systemic - 3

Toxicity to Fish-96 hr LC50
> 10 ppm - 1
1-10 ppm - 3
< 1 ppm - 5

Acute Dermal LD50 for Rabbits/Rats(m&/kg)
>2000 - 1
200 - 2000 - 3
0 - 200 - 5

Toxicity to Birds-8 day LC50
> 1000 ppm - 1
100-1000 ppm - 3
1-100 ppm - 5

Long-Term Health Effects
little or none - 1
possible- 3
definite - 5

Toxicity to Bees
relatively nontoxic - 1
moderately toxic - 3
highly toxic - 5

Plant Surface Residue Half-life
l-2 weeks- 1
2-4 weeks- 3
> 4 weeks - 5
pre-emergent herbicides - l
post-emergent herbicides - 3

Toxicity to Beneficials
low impact- 1
moderate impact - 3
severe impact - 5

Soil Residue Half-life
Tl/2 <30 days - 1
Tl/2=30-100 days - 3
Tl/2 >100 days - 5

Groundwater and Runoff Potential
small - 1
medium - 3
large -5

In order to further organize and simplify the data, a model was developed called the environmental impact quotient of pesticides (EIQ). This model reduces the environmental impact information to a single value. To accomplish this, an equation was developed based on the three principal components of agricultural production systems: a farm worker component, a consumer component, and an ecological component. Each component in the equation is given equal weight in the final analysis, but within each component, individual factors are weighted differently. Coefficients used in the equation to give additional weight to individual factors are also based on a one to five scale. Factors carrying the most weight are multiplied by five, medium-impact factors are multiplied by three, and those factors considered to have the least impact are multiplied by one. A consistent rule throughout the model is that the impact potential of a specific pesticide on an individual environmental factor is equal to the toxicity of the chemical times the potential for exposure. Stated simply, environmental impact is equal to toxicity times exposure. For example, fish toxicity is calculated by determining the inherent toxicity of the compound to fish times the likelihood of the fish encountering the pesticide. In this manner, compounds that are toxic to fish but short-lived have lower impact values than compounds that are toxic and long-lived.