Hydrogeologic framework and sampling design for an assessment of agricultural pesticides in ground water in Pennsylvania

Water-Resources Investigations Report 99-4076
Prepared in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
By:  and 



State agencies responsible for regulating pesticides are required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop state management plans for specific pesticides. A key part of these management plans includes assessing the potential for contamination of ground water by pesticides throughout the state. As an example of how a statewide assessment could be implemented, a plan is presented for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to illustrate how a hydrogeologic framework can be used as a basis for sampling areas within a state with the highest likelihood of having elevated pesticide concentrations in ground water. The framework was created by subdividing the state into 20 areas on the basis of physiography and aquifer type. Each of these 20 hydrogeologic settings is relatively homogeneous with respect to aquifer susceptibility and pesticide use—factors that would be likely to affect pesticide concentrations in ground water. Existing data on atrazine occurrence in ground water was analyzed to determine (1) which areas of the state already have sufficient samples collected to make statistical comparisons among hydrogeologic settings, and (2) the effect of factors such as land use and aquifer characteristics on pesticide occurrence. The theoretical vulnerability and the results of the data analysis were used to rank each of the 20 hydrogeologic settings on the basis of vulnerability of ground water to contamination by pesticides. Example sampling plans are presented for nine of the hydrogeologic settings that lack sufficient data to assess vulnerability to contamination. Of the highest priority areas of the state, two out of four have been adequately sampled, one of the three areas of moderate to high priority has been adequately sampled, four of the nine areas of moderate to low priority have been adequately sampled, and none of the three low priority areas have been sampled.

Sampling to date has shown that, even in the most vulnerable hydrogeologic settings, pesticide concentrations in ground water rarely exceed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Drinking Water Standards or Health Advisory Levels. Analyses of samples from 1,159 private water supplies reveal only 3 sites for which samples with concentrations of pesticides exceeded drinking-water standards. In most cases, samples with elevated concentrations could be traced to point sources at pesticide loading or mixing areas. These analyses included data from some of the most vulnerable areas of the state, indicating that it is highly unlikely that pesticide concentrations in water from wells in other areas of the state would exceed the drinking-water standards unless a point source of contamination were present. Analysis of existing data showed that water from wells in areas of the state underlain by carbonate (limestone and dolomite) bedrock, which commonly have a high percentage of corn production, was much more likely to have pesticides detected. Application of pesticides to the land surface generally has not caused concentrations of the five state priority pesticides in ground water to exceed health standards; however, this study has not evaluated the potential human health effects of mixtures of pesticides or pesticide degradation products in drinking water. This study also has not determined whether concentrations in ground water are stable, increasing, or decreasing.

Suggested Citation

Lindsey, B.D., Bickford, T.M., 1999, Hydrogeologic framework and sampling design for an assessment of agricultural pesticides in ground water in Pennsylvania: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 1999-4076, 44 p., https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/wri994076.

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Hydrogeologic framework for pesticide analysis
  • Prioritization of areas for sampling
  • Sampling plan
  • Summary
  • References cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Hydrogeologic framework and sampling design for an assessment of agricultural pesticides in ground water in Pennsylvania
Series title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number 99-4076
DOI 10.3133/wri994076
Year Published 1999
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Pennsylvania Water Science Center
Description v, 44 p.
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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