Pesticides include herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and growth regulators. They can get into groundwater both from leaching of applications to agricultural land and also from non-approved use, poor practices and illegal operations.

Pesticide problems can be challenging to study because of the large number of different compounds used, each with unique fate and transport properties, and the low concentrations permitted in abstracted water groundwater under drinking water regulations — Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 2010.

BGS studies of pesticides in groundwater

Recent research in the Groundwater Science programme has built on a series of studies in the 90s focused on understanding pesticide transport and attenuation in groundwater (e.g. Foster et al., 1991; Chilton et al., 2005; Gooddy et al., 2001).

Studies have included:

Diuron and its metabolites in the Chalk aquifer (Lapworth and Gooddy, 2006)
  • Field-scale soil sorption and degradation studies for the herbicide diuron and its metabolites (Gooddy et al., 2002)
  • A regional study of diuron and its metabolites in the Chalk aquifer (Lapworth and Gooddy, 2006)
  • A large commissioned project for a water utility to understand the extent of pollution in groundwater in the Permo-Triassic sandstone aquifer involving regional and temporal surveys of groundwater , site investigation and complementary modelling studies of borehole capture zones for a range of pesticides (Lapworth et al., 2006; Gooddy et al, 2005; Stuart et al., 2006).
  • Natural attenuation of the enantiomeric fractions of the herbicide mecoprop down gradient of a landfill in the Lincolnshire Limestone (Williams et al., 2003). The study revealed subtle differences in mecoprop degradation in different redox environments within the aquifer.
  • Investigations of the significance of colloids in the transport of pesticides in UK aquifers (Lapworth et al., 2005; Gooddy et al., 2007)
  • The development of novel techniques to understand transport processes.

Selected publications

Browse NORA for our recent publications relating to research into pesticides

Gooddy et al.  2007.  The significance of colloids in the transport of pesticides through Chalk. Science of the Total Environment, 385. 262–271.

Lapworth and Gooddy.  2006.  Source and persistence of pesticides in a semi-confined aquifer of southeast England.  Environmental Pollution, 144 (3).

Stuart et al.  2006.  A field and modeling study to determine pesticide occurrence in a public water supply in northern England.  Ground Water Monitoring & Remediation, 26 (4). 128–136.

Chilton et al.  2005.  Pesticide fate and behaviour in the UK Chalk aquifer, and implications for groundwater quality.   Quarterly Journal of Engineering Geology and Hydrogeology, 38 (1). 65–81.

Williams et al.  2003.  Changes in enantiomeric fraction as evidence of natural attenuation of mecoprop in a limestone aquifer.  Journal of Contaminant Hydrology, 64(3–4). 253–267.

Foster et al.  1991.   Mechanisms of groundwater pollution by pesticides.  Journal of the Institution of Water and Environmental Management, 5. 196–193.


Contact Marianne Stuart for further information.