The mid-1970s marked a major turning point in human history, for it was at that moment that the ability of the Earth’s ecosystems to absorb most of the biological impacts of human activities appears to have been exceeded by the magnitude of those impacts. This conclusion is based partly upon estimates of the rate of carbon dioxide emission during the combustion of fossil fuels, relative to the rate of its uptake by terrestrial ecosystems (Loh, 2002). A very different threshold, however, had already been crossed several decades earlier with the birth of the modern chemical industry, which produced novel substances for which no such natural assimilative capacity existed. Among these new chemical compounds, none has posed a greater challenge to the planet’s ecosystems than synthetic pesticides, compounds that have been intentionally released into the hydrologic system in vast quantities—several hundred million pounds of active ingredient (a.i.) per year in the United States alone (Donaldson et al., 2002)—for many decades. To gauge the extent to which we are currently able to assess the environmental implications of this new development in the Earth’s history, this chapter presents an overview of current understanding regarding the sources, transport, fate, and biological effects of pesticides, their transformation products, and selected adjuvants in the hydrologic system. (Adjuvants are the so-called inert ingredients included in commercial pesticide formulations to enhance the effectiveness of the active ingredients.)
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