Alarming discovery: Pesticides found in the Arctic atmosphere raise concerns over their long-distance travel and slow degradation

8 Feb 2024

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A new international study conducted by more than 30 institutions across 17 countries, including the RECETOX Centre at Masaryk University, has revealed a startling phenomenon: the long-range atmospheric transport of 22 pesticides, seven of which were previously banned. The detection of these pesticides in the Arctic and in the free troposphere over the European continent emphasizes their ability to travel vast distances through the air and their unexpectedly slow degradation in the environment.

Published in Environmental Science & Technology, the study focused on tracking 76 pesticides, exposing that 22 of them were capable of long-distance atmospheric transport. Notably, 19 pesticides were detected in Arctic locations, with 15 of them identified for the first time.

Dr. Sabine Eckhardt from the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU) underscores the critical importance of these findings: "The observation of pesticides at polar sites clearly highlights their potential for long-range atmospheric transport. When we looked into the history of individual air samples, we saw, in most cases, no contact with agricultural areas over many days."

The study's first author, Ludovic Mayer from RECETOX, explains the innovative approach: "We used a new approach of synchronized field measurement of continental scale at 29 different locations during the pesticide application season. The chemical analysis and validation were done centrally."

Policy maker Caren Rauert from the German Environment Agency (UBA) emphasizes that from a regulatory perspective, the modelling of atmospheric half-lives to evaluate long range transport properties obviously needs to be scrutinized since numerous substances were found in this study that had not been expected to travel over long distances.

These revelations provide crucial insights into the regional dispersion of pesticides in the atmosphere, presenting a challenge for regulators and the agrochemical industry. The study calls for a comprehensive review of current practices and urges the consideration of implementing stricter criteria for the approval and use of pesticides in agriculture.

For further information, please contact: Prof. Dr. Gerhard Lammel

Link to the research paper:

The research was supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (857560); the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports through RECETOX Research Infrastructure (LM2023069), ACTRIS-CZ RI (LM2023030) and CETOCOEN EXCELLENCE (CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/17_043/0009632); the Brno City Municipality and the South Moravian Centre for International Mobility (JCMM); the Czech Science Foundation (20-07117S); the Estonian Research Council (PRG714, PRG1674); the General Secretariat of Research and Innovation of the Greek Ministry of Development and Investments, Public Investment Program, through the National Νetwork on Climate Change and its Impacts; the Norwegian Fram Center (CLEAN-FRAM) and COPE (NFR #28114); the Swedish Research Council (ACTRIS-SE RI 2021-00177); the National Facilities of the ACTRIS (Aerosol, Clouds and Trace gases Research Infrastructure) and EMEP (Co-operative Programme for Monitoring and Evaluation of the Long-range Transmission of Air Pollutants in Europe) network of platforms; the European Regional Development Fund in Spain related to LifeWatch ERIC (INDALO, LIFEWATCH-2019-04-AMA-01); the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Lund University, and the Swedish Research Council through ICOS Sweden, the H2020 RIs ACTRIS 262254 and ACTRIS-2 654109; EPA Ireland through the Atmosphere Chemistry and Climate Change (AC3) network, technical support from the UMS 831 Pic du Midi observatory team and the Pyrenean Platform for Atmospheric Observations (P2OA), funded by CNRS-INSU; the Estonian Environmental Observatory (KKOBS 2014-2020.4.01.20-0281), the Estonian Environmental Agency and ACTRIS IMP (871115) and to the Natural Environmental Research Council’s Atmospheric Measurement and Observation Facility (AMOF, AMF_20022020084418).

Article citation: Mayer L., Degrendele C., Šenk P., Přibylová P., Kukučka P., Melymuk L.E., Durand A., Ravier S., Alastuey A., Baker A.R., Baltensperger U., Baumann-Stanzer K., Biermann T., Bohlin-Nizzetto P., Ceburnis C., Conil S., Couret C., Degórska A., Diapouli E., Dubois R., Eckhardt S., Eleftheriadis K., Forster G., Freier K., Gheusi F., Gini M.I., Hellén H., Henne S., Herrmann H., Holubová Šmejkalová A., Hõrrak U., Hüglin C., Junninen H., Kristensson A., Langrene L., Levula J., Lothon M., Ludewig E., Lyngra R., Makkonen U., Matejovi10.1021/acs.estčová J., Mihalopoulos N., Mináriková V., Moche W., Noe S.M., Perez N., Petäjä T., Pont V., Poulain L., Quivet E., Ratz G., Rehm G., Reimann S., Simmons I., Sonke J.E., Sorribas M., Spoor R., Swart D.P.J., Vasilatou V., Wortham H., Yela M., Zarmpas P., Zellweger C., Tørseth K., Laj P., Klánová J., Lammel G.: “Widespread distribution of pesticides in the European atmosphere questions their degradability in air”, Environ. Sci. Technol. 58 (2024) doi: 10.1021/acs.est.3c08488

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