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Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 2006;188:149-217.

Adsorption of ionisable pesticides in soils.

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Environment Department, University of York, Heslington, York, YO10 5DD, UK.


Understanding the fate of a pesticide in soil is fundamental to the accurate assessment of its environmental behaviour and vital in ensuring the safe use of new and existing products. Ionisable pesticides comprise a significant proportion of both existing and new active substances registered for use in agriculture worldwide. This group of pesticides includes chemicals that are frequently found in groundwater and surface waters in many different countries. Despite this, approaches to predict the influence of soil properties on the behaviour of ionisable pesticides in soils are poorly developed. Current regulatory assessments frequently default to methods developed for nonionic chemicals, although it is evident that ionisable compounds do not often react like neutral molecules. This review presents the state of knowledge on the adsorption of ionisable pesticides in soils. It first introduces the issues concerning adsorption and the characteristics of this particular kind of chemical. The mechanisms postulated for the adsorption of ionisable pesticides are then described: these are hydrophobic partitioning, ionic exchange, charge transfer, ligand exchange, cation or water bridging, and the formation of bound residues. Relatively little experimental evidence is available, and we are still unable to determine the quantitative contribution of each process in a particular situation. Knowledge is still lacking concerning phenomena occurring at the surfaces of soil particles. Measurements do not allow determination of the operative pH at the surface of soil particles or in microenvironments, and the influence of ionic strength or competition effects is difficult to assess. Subsequently, the review focuses on the influence of soil properties on adsorption and on potential to predict the behaviour of ionisable pesticides in soils. Unlike hydrophobic compounds, adsorption of ionisable pesticides is highly sensitive to variation in pH. This relationship mainly derives from the different proportion of ionic and neutral forms of the pesticide present at each pH level but also from the presence of surfaces with pH-dependent charges in soils. Soil organic matter generally promotes adsorption, although a negative influence has sometimes been reported. Clay and oxides can also play a significant role in some cases. So far, no modelling approach has been applied successfully to a range of ionisable pesticides to predict their adsorption in soils. The standardization of experimental settings and the application of approaches specific to a particular class of pesticide or different type of soil might be necessary to describe the complexity of interactions among ionisable molecules. Degradation of ionisable pesticides is influenced by soil pH in a particular way that relates to changes in sorption, changes in composition and activity of the microbial community, and to shifts in the balance between different degradative mechanisms.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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