Possible sinks of pesticide drift-caused environmental contamination

Pesticide drift, also known as spray drift refers to the unintentional diffusion of pesticides toward nontarget species. It is one of the most negative effects of pesticide application. Drift can damage human health, environment, and crops.[1][2] Together with runoff and leaching, drift is a mechanism for agricultural pollution.[3] Some drift results from contamination of sprayer tanks.[4]

Farmers struggle to minimize pesticide drift and remain productive.[5] Research continues on developing pesticides that are more selective,[6] but the current pesticides have been highly optimized.

Pesticide application

Main article: pesticide application

Pesticides are commonly applied by the use of mechanical sprayers. Sprayers convert a pesticide formulation, often consisting of a mixture of water, the pesticide, and other components (adjuvants, for example) into droplets, which are applied to the crop. Ideally, the pesticide droplets attach evenly to the targeted crop. Because components of the mist are highly mobile, spray drift can occur, especially for smaller droplets. Some pesticides mists are visible, appearing cloud-like, while others can be invisible and odorless.[7][8]

The quality of sprayer equipment affects drift problems.[9][10] Sprayer tanks contaminated with another herbicide are one source of drift.[4] With placement (localised) spraying of broad spectrum pesticides, considerable efforts have been made to quantify and control spray drift from hydraulic nozzles.[11] Conversely, wind drift is also an efficient mechanism for moving droplets of an appropriate size range to their targets over a wide area with ultra-low volume (ULV) spraying.[12]

"Drift retardants" are compounds added to the spray mixture to suppress pesticide drift. A typical retardant is polyacrylamide. These polymers suppress the formation of tiny droplets.[13]

Weather conditions and timing affect the drift problem.[4] The efficiency of the spray and reach of the spray drift can be computed.[14] In addition to weather, windbreaks can mitigate the effects of drift.[15] Other ways to mitigate spray drift is to apply the pesticide directly to the desired treatment area, as well as paying attention to where surface waters, gutters, drainage ditches, and storm drains are located. This is to make sure that the pesticide is applied in a way that prevents it from getting in to these spaces. [16]

Most herbicides are organic compounds of low volatility, unlike fumigants, which are usually gases. Several are salts and others have boiling points above 100 °C (Dicamba is a solid that melts at 114°C). Thus, drift often entails mobilization of droplets, which can be very small. The contribution from their volatility, low as they are, cannot be ignored, either.[17]

A distinction has been made between "exo-drift" (the transfer of spray out of the target area) and endo-drift, where the active ingredient (AI) in droplets falls into the target area, but does not reach the biological target. "Endo-drift" is volumetrically more significant and may therefore cause greater ecological contamination (e.g. where chemical pesticides pollute ground water).[18]

Since drift can be problematic, alternative weed-control technologies have evolved. A topical approach is integrated pest management, which involves fewer chemicals but often greater manual work.[19]

Dicamba drift

Chemical structure of Dicamba, 3,6-dichloro-2-methoxybenzoic acid

Dicamba drift is a particular problem, as has been recognized since at least 1979.[20] The effects have been noted for many crops: grapes, tomatoes, soybeans.[21][22] In 2017, Dicamba-resistant soybeans and cotton were approved for use in the US. This new technology worsened the drift problem because these farmers could use Dicamba more freely.[23]

Although already low in volatility, as discussed above, Dicamba can be made even less volatile by conversion to various salts. The approach entails treatment of Dicamba with amines, which form ammonium salts. These salts are described by their acronyms BAPMA-Dicamba and DGA-Dicamba. Although these salts are of lower volatility in laboratory tests, in the field the situation is more complicated, and drift remains a problem.[17]

Safety and society

Much public concern has led to research into spray drift, point source pollution (e.g. pesticides entering bodies of water following spillage of concentrate or rinsate) can also cause environmental harm.[24] Public concern for pesticide drift is not met with regulatory response.[18] Farm workers and communities surrounding large farms are at a high risk of coming in contact with pesticides. People in agricultural areas are at risk for increased genotoxicity because of pesticide drift.[25][26]

Insecticides sprayed on crop fields can also have detrimental effects on non-human lifeforms that are important to the surrounding ecosystems like bees and other insects.[27]

The seriousness of crop injury caused by dicamba drift is increasingly being recognized. For example, the American Soybean Association and various land-grant universities are cooperating in the race to find ways to preserve the usability of dicamba while ending drift injury.[28] Application of herbicides later in the season to protect herbicide-resistant genetically modified plants increases the risk of volatilisation as the temperature is higher and incorporation into the soil impractical.[7]

From 1998 to 2006, Environmental Health Perspectives found nearly 3,000 cases of pesticide drift; nearly half were workers on the fields treated with pesticides and 14% of cases were children under the age of 15.[29]

Health concerns

Bystander exposure describes the event when individuals unintentionally come in contact with airborne pesticides. Bystanders include workers working in an area separate to the pesticide application area, individuals living in the surrounding areas of an application area, or individuals passing by fields as they are being treated with a pesticide.[30]

Pesticide application

Different pesticides can affect different body systems, inflicting different symptoms.[31] Pesticides can have long-term negative health impacts, including cancer, lung diseases, fertility and reproductive problems, and neurodevelopmental issues in children, when exposure levels are high enough.[32]

Four farmworkers, appearing to be Latinx and in plain clothing, work the land.
Farmworkers, disproportionately of the Latinx community, experience pesticide drift frequently as a work hazard.


In 2001, the United States Environmental Protection Agency published a guidance to "manufacturers, formulators, and registrants of pesticide products" (EPA 2001)[33] that stated the EPA's stance against pesticide drift as well as suggested product labelling practices.

To try and reduce pesticide drift, the EPA is a part of several initiatives. The EPA has routine pesticide risk assessments to check potential drift impact on farmworkers living near or on fields where crops are grown, farmworkers, water sources, and the environment.[34] The USDA and EPA are working together to examine new studies and how to improve scientific models to estimate the exposure, risk, and drift of pesticides.[34] The EPA is also working with pesticide manufacturers to ensure labels are easy to read, contain the correct application process and DRT for that specific pesticide.[35][36]

See also


  1. ^ "Community Guide to Recognizing and Reporting Pesticide Problems". CA Dept. of Pesticide Regulation. Retrieved 25 March 2011.
  2. ^ US EPA, OCSPP (1 August 2014). "Introduction to Pesticide Drift". www.epa.gov. Retrieved 14 March 2024.
  3. ^ Egan, J. Franklin; Barlow, Kathryn M.; Mortensen, David A. (2014). "A Meta-Analysis on the Effects of 2,4-D and Dicamba Drift on Soybean and Cotton". Weed Science. 62: 193–206. doi:10.1614/WS-D-13-00025.1. S2CID 85873934.
  4. ^ a b c Desmarteau, Dean A; Ritter, Amy M; Hendley, Paul; Guevara, Megan W (March 2020). "Impact of Wind Speed and Direction and Key Meteorological Parameters on Potential Pesticide Drift Mass Loadings from Sequential Aerial Applications". Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management. 16 (2): 197–210. Bibcode:2020IEAM...16..197D. doi:10.1002/ieam.4221. PMC 7064987. PMID 31589364.
  5. ^ Moeller, Daniel L. (March 2019). "Superfund, Pesticide Regulation, and Spray Drift: Rethinking the Federal Pesticide Regulatory Framework to Provide Alternative Remedies for Pesticide Damage". Iowa Law Review. 104 (3): 1523–1550. ProQuest 2212659406.
  6. ^ Brain, Richard; Goodwin, Greg; Abi-Akar, Farah; Lee, Brian; Rodgers, Carol; Flatt, Brian; Lynn, Abby; Kruger, Greg; Perkins, Dan (August 2019). "Winds of change, developing a non-target plant bioassay employing field-based pesticide drift exposure: A case study with atrazine". Science of the Total Environment. 678: 239–252. Bibcode:2019ScTEn.678..239B. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.04.411. PMID 31075591. S2CID 149455432.
  7. ^ a b Pollack, Andrew (25 April 2012). "Dow Corn, Resistant to a Weed Killer, Runs Into Opposition". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Menalled, Fabian; Dyer, William E. (19 April 2005). "Getting the Most from Soil-Applied Herbicides". Montana State University. Archived from the original on 21 December 2012. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  9. ^ "Pesticide Drift – Pesticide Environmental Stewardship". Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  10. ^ Peters, Tom; Thostenson, Andrew; Nowatzki, John; Hofman, Vern; Wilson, James (July 2017). "Selecting Spray Nozzles to Reduce Particle Drift". NDSU Extension Service. AE1246.
  11. ^ Hewitt, A.J., Spray drift: impact of requirements to protect the environment, Crop Protection 19 (2000) p 623-627
  12. ^ Harrison, Jill Lindsey (2011). Pesticide Drift and the Pursuit of Environmental Justice. doi:10.7551/mitpress/9780262015981.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-262-01598-1.[page needed]
  13. ^ Appleby, Arnold P.; Müller, Franz; Carpy, Serge (15 June 2001). "Weed Control". Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. Weinheim, Germany: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA. doi:10.1002/14356007.a28_165. ISBN 978-3-527-30673-2.
  14. ^ Hong, Se-Woon; Zhao, Lingying; Zhu, Heping (December 2018). "SAAS, a computer program for estimating pesticide spray efficiency and drift of air-assisted pesticide applications". Computers and Electronics in Agriculture. 155: 58–68. Bibcode:2018CEAgr.155...58H. doi:10.1016/j.compag.2018.09.031. S2CID 53791164.
  15. ^ Ucar, Tamer; Hall, Franklin R. (2001). "Windbreaks as a Pesticide Drift Mitigation Strategy: A Review". Pest Management Science. 57 (8): 663–675. doi:10.1002/ps.341.
  16. ^ US EPA, OCSPP (1 August 2014). "Introduction to Pesticide Drift". www.epa.gov. Retrieved 14 March 2024.
  17. ^ a b Bish, Mandy D.; Farrell, Shea T.; Lerch, Robert N.; Bradley, Kevin W. (2019). "Dicamba Losses to Air after Applications to Soybean under Stable and Nonstable Atmospheric Conditions". Journal of Environmental Quality. 48 (6): 1675–1682. doi:10.2134/jeq2019.05.0197. ISSN 0047-2425.
  18. ^ a b Harrison, Jill Lindsey (June 2006). "'Accidents' and invisibilities: Scaled discourse and the naturalization of regulatory neglect in California's pesticide drift conflict". Political Geography. 25 (5): 506–529. doi:10.1016/j.polgeo.2006.02.003.
  19. ^ Damos, Petros; Colomar, Lucía-Adriana; Ioriatti, Claudio (26 June 2015). "Integrated Fruit Production and Pest Management in Europe: The Apple Case Study and How Far We Are From the Original Concept?". Insects. 6 (3): 626–657. doi:10.3390/insects6030626. ISSN 2075-4450. PMC 4598656. PMID 26463407.
  20. ^ Behrens, Richard; Lueschen, W. E. (1979). "Dicamba Volatility". Weed Science. 27 (5): 486–493. doi:10.1017/S0043174500044453. ISSN 0043-1745.
  21. ^ Riter, Leah S.; Pai, Naresh; Vieira, Bruno C.; MacInnes, Alison; Reiss, Richard; Hapeman, Cathleen J.; Kruger, Greg R. (8 December 2021). "Conversations about the Future of Dicamba: The Science Behind Off-Target Movement". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 69 (48): 14435–14444. doi:10.1021/acs.jafc.1c05589. ISSN 0021-8561.
  22. ^ Britt E. Erickson (28 August 2022). "EPA Finds More Risks for the Pesticide Dicamba". Chemical & Engineering News: 13–13. doi:10.47287/cen-10030-polcon1. ISSN 1520-605X.
  23. ^ Egan, J. Franklin; Barlow, Kathryn M.; Mortensen, David A. (2014). "A Meta-Analysis on the Effects of 2,4-D and Dicamba Drift on Soybean and Cotton". Weed Science. 62 (1): 193–206. doi:10.1614/WS-D-13-00025.1. ISSN 0043-1745.
  24. ^ Spanoghe, P.; Maes, A.; Steurbaut, W. (2004). "Limitation of point source pesticide pollution: results of bioremediation system". Communications in Agricultural and Applied Biological Sciences. 69 (4): 719–732. PMID 15756863.
  25. ^ Doğanlar, Zeynep Banu; Doğanlar, Oğuzhan; Tozkir, Hilmi; Gökalp, Fulya Dilek; Doğan, Ayten; Yamaç, Ferah; Aşkın, Orhan Onur; Aktaş, Ümmühan Ersin (November 2018). "Nonoccupational Exposure of Agricultural Area Residents to Pesticides: Pesticide Accumulation and Evaluation of Genotoxicity". Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. 75 (4): 530–544. Bibcode:2018ArECT..75..530D. doi:10.1007/s00244-018-0545-7. PMID 30003277. S2CID 51617217.
  26. ^ Suratman, Suratman; Edwards, John William; Babina, Kateryna (2015). "Organophosphate pesticides exposure among farmworkers: Pathways and risk of adverse health effects". Reviews on Environmental Health. 30 (1): 65–79. doi:10.1515/reveh-2014-0072. PMID 25741936. S2CID 38705916.
  27. ^ McEwen, F.L. (1977), "Pesticide Residues and Agricultural Workers—An Overview", Pesticide Management and Insecticide Resistance, Elsevier, pp. 37–49, doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-738650-8.50008-4, ISBN 9780127386508
  28. ^ "ASA Steps up Urgency in Search for Answers on Dicamba Damage". American Soybean Association. 25 September 2017. Retrieved 13 June 2021. This issue...
  29. ^ Lee, Soo-Jeong; Mehler, Louise; Beckman, John; Diebolt-Brown, Brienne; Prado, Joanne; Lackovic, Michelle; Waltz, Justin; Mulay, Prakash; Schwartz, Abby; Mitchell, Yvette; Moraga-McHaley, Stephanie; Gergely, Rita; Calvert, Geoffrey M. (August 2011). "Acute Pesticide Illnesses Associated with Off-Target Pesticide Drift from Agricultural Applications: 11 States, 1998–2006". Environmental Health Perspectives. 119 (8): 1162–1169. doi:10.1289/ehp.1002843. PMC 3237344. PMID 21642048.
  30. ^ Matthews, Graham (2016). Pesticides: Health, Safety and the Environment. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-118-97602-9.[page needed]
  31. ^ "Pesticide Drift Exposure and Your Health" (PDF). Minnesota Poison Control System. 30 March 2018. Retrieved 2 March 2023.
  32. ^ "Pesticide Drift Exposure and Your Health" (PDF). Minnesota Poison Control System. 20 March 2018. Retrieved 14 March 2024.
  33. ^ "PRN 2001-X Draft: Spray and Dust Drift Label Statements for Pesticide Products". U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 4 September 2014.
  34. ^ a b "What EPA is Doing to Reduce Pesticide Drift". U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 1 August 2014.
  35. ^ "About the Drift Reduction Technology Program". U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  36. ^ "Improving Labels to Reduce Pesticide Drift". U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 1 August 2014.