Aquatic Herbicide Testing, Toxicity, and EPA Registration
Herbicides are pesticides that target plants. Aquatic herbicides are a class of herbicides used to manage various aquatic weeds, either by killing them or severely interrupting their normal growth processes. Aquatic herbicides are placed directly in water. This can cause great concern for the public because of their use of water for recreational activities such as swimming and fishing, and for irrigation and drinking.
Events in the history of pesticide use prior to regulation cause the public to view current, regulated uses of pesticides and other synthetic chemicals with concern and skepticism. On December 2, 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established to consolidate a variety of federal research, monitoring, standards and enforcement activities to ensure environmental protection. EPA's mission is to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment—air, water, and land—upon which life depends. Once established, the EPA developed a Pesticides Program that requires stringent testing and strict regulation of pesticides prior to their commercial release for use in the environment. Pesticide registration assures that proper use of the pesticide will not result in unwanted impacts to human health or the environment. A pesticide cannot legally be used if it is not registered with the EPA Office of Pesticide Programs. In order to release a pesticide for legal use, the EPA evaluates the chemical in the pesticide in relation to the location where it is to be used; the amount, frequency and timing of application; and storage and disposal methods. In addition, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) requires pesticides to be re-registered on a continuing basis. Learn more about the EPA regulation and registration of pesticides at their website.
After EPA approval, a herbicide must also be registered in each state where it will be used. State registration may require additional testing for specific environmental or agricultural conditions. Registration in Florida is regulated by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), AES Bureau of Pesticides.
To achieve EPA registration, aquatic herbicides must be effective in controlling target weeds, and also meet the rigid environmental and toxicology criteria required by the EPA. Aquatic herbicides require testing over and above that needed for non-aquatic herbicides, and take many years of research before a new aquatic herbicide can be approved by the EPA. Data from nearly 150 tests must be submitted and evaluated, including toxicity, environmental persistence and other factors.
Toxicity is a measure of the danger of chemicals to different species. Toxicity varies based on many factors including the dose (the quantity of chemical exposure per unit of time). The dose can be influenced by route of entry into the body (exposure). Exposure can occur by contact with skin (dermal exposure), through inhalation, or by ingestion (oral exposure).
Herbicides kill plants by acting on biochemical pathways that do not occur in animals. Therefore, while they are toxic to plants, they have low toxicity in animals, even if ingested. The LD50 (lethal dose 50%) is the amount of a chemical required to kill 50 percent of the test population acutely exposed through ingestion. This test is performed on different types of animals including mammals (rats), birds (quail and ducks), and fish, shrimp and zooplankton. The screening-level assessment process used by the EPA to evaluate the potential impact of pesticides to non-target organisms is called an Ecological Risk Assessment.
Data collected is used to determine the acceptable toxicity level, defined as the level of pesticide present in food or water in which a lifetime of human consumption is not likely to cause adverse health effects in humans.
Herbicide testing and registration costs are borne by the pesticide manufacturer (registrant). Studies include, but are not limited to
- potential residue in potable water, fish, shellfish, and crops that may be irrigated
- environmental fate
- how the compound breaks down
- whether or not it is absorbed by test animals
- short-term or acute toxicity to test animals
- whether or not it causes birth defects, tumors, or other abnormalities after long-term exposure
- toxicity to aquatic organisms such as waterfowl, fish, or invertebrates.
Fourteen herbicide active ingredients are currently registered for use in Florida waters. They are listed in Table 2 with maximum use rate, toxicity levels, half-life in water, and breakdown pathways. These aquatic herbicides are approved for use by both the EPA and the FDACS.
|Herbicide||Maximum Use Rate for Submersed Treatments*||Acute Toxicity Lab Rat – LD50 (mg/kg body wt)||Acute Toxicity Fish (bluegill) (96 hr LC50)||Half-Life in Water**||Method of Transformation (breakdown pathway) to Non-toxic***|
|Bispyribac-sodium||45 ppb||2,635 mg/kg (female); 4,111 mg/kg (male)||> 100 ppm||approx. 30 days||microbial|
|Carfentrazone||not used in submersed treatments||4,000 mg/kg||2 mg/L||3-9 days||hydrolysis, microbial|
|Copper||1 mg/L||470 mg/kg||0.884 mg/L in soft water 7.3 mg/L in hard water||2-8 days||adsorption, precipitation|
|Diquat||.37 mg/L||230 mg/kg||245 mg/L||1-7 days||photolysis, microbial, adsorption|
|Endothall||5 mg/L||182 mg/kg (as potassium salt) 233 mg/kg (as alkylamine salt)||343 mg/L (as potassium salt) 0.96 mg/L (as alkylamine salt)||4-7 days||microbial|
|Flumioxazin||400 ppb||>5,000 mg/kg||>21 mg/L||pH 5: 3.4-5.1 days; pH 7: 21.4-24.6 hours; pH 9: 14.6-22 minutes||alkaline hydrolysis|
|Fluridone||.15 mg/L||>10,000 mg/kg||14.3 mg/L||20-82 days||photolysis, microbial|
|Glyphosate||0.5 mg/L not applied to water; only to foliage of emergent vegetation||>5,600 mg/kg||120 mg/L||1-7 days (water) 47 days (soil)||microbial|
|Sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate||10.2 mg/L||1,034 mg/kg||71 mg/L (fathead minnow)||immediate||hydrolysis|
|Imazamox||.5 mg/L||>5,000 mg/kg||122 mg/L||7-14 days||photolysis, microbial|
|Imazapyr||not used in submersed treatments||>5,000 mg/kg||82 mg/L||2-3 days||hydrolysis|
|Penoxsulam||.15 mg/L||>5,000 mg/kg||>103 mg/L||25 days||photolysis, microbial|
|Triclopyr||2.5 mg/L||730mg/kg||148 mg/L||6-8 days||photolysis|
|2, 4-D||4.0 mg/L||>1,000 mg/kg||263 mg/L||7-48 days||microbial|
Adsorption – binding to the soil
Hydrolysis – breaking down in water
Microbial – broken down by microbes
Photolysis – breaking down in sunlight
Precipitation – falling out of solution and sinking to the bottom
Note: Many different units of measure are used in discussions of pesticides.
1 part per million (ppm) = 1 mg/L = 1mg/kg.
Toxicity of Pesticides by O.N. Nesheim, F.M. Fishel and M.A. Mossler, (EDIS publication #PI-13, 2014).
The Environmental Protection Agency Pesticides website.
Aquatic Pest Control SM 3 by K. Langeland and F. Fishel, University of Florida-IFAS, 2010.
Last updated: 11 December 2014