Occurrence of Selected Herbicides and Herbicide Degradation Products in Iowa's Ground Water, 1995

From Ground Water, vol. 35, no. 4, pages 679-688

By  1Dana W. Kolpin, 1Stephen J. Kalkhoff, 2Donald A. Goolsby, 1Debra A. Sneck-Fahrer, and 3E. Michael Thurman

 1U.S. Geological Survey, Iowa City, IA 

2U.S. Geological Survey, Lakewood, CO

3U.S. Geological Survey, Lawrence, KS


Herbicide compounds were prevalent in ground water across Iowa, being detected in 70% of the 106 municipal wells sampled during the summer of 1995. Herbicide degradation products were three of the four most frequently detected compounds for this study. The degradation product alachlor ethanesulfonic acid was the most frequently detected compound (65.1%), followed by atrazine (40.6%), and the degradation products deethylatrazine (34.9%), and cyanazine amide (19.8%). The corn herbicide acetochlor, first registered for widespread use in the United States in March 1994, was detected in a single water sample. No reported herbicide compound concentrations for this study exceeded current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's maximum contaminant levels or health advisory levels for drinking water, although the herbicide degradation products examined have yet to have such levels established.

The occurrence of herbicide compounds had a significant, inverse relation to well depth and a significant, positive relation to dissolved-oxygen concentration. It is felt that both well depth and dissolved oxygen are acting as rough surrogates to ground-water age, with younger ground water being more likely to contain herbicide compounds. The occurrence of herbicide compounds was substantially different among the major aquifer types across Iowa, being detected in 82.5% of the alluvial, 81.8% of the bedrock/ karst region, 40.0% of the glacial-drift, and 25.0% of the bedrock/nonkarst region aquifers. The observed distribution was partially attributed to variations in general ground-water age among these aquifer types. A significant, inverse relation was determined between total herbicide compound concentrations in ground water and the average soil slope within a 2-km radius of sampled wells. Steeper soil slopes may increase the likelihood of surface runoff occurring rather than ground-water infiltration--decreasing the transport of herbicide compounds to ground water. As expected, a significant positive relation was determined between intensity of herbicide use and herbicide concentrations in ground water.


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Project Chief
Eastern Iowa Basins
U.S. Geological Survey
PO Box 1230
Iowa City, IA 52244
Phone: (319) 358-3611

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