Estimating the aquatic risk from exposure to up to twenty-two pesticide active ingredients in waterways discharging to the Great Barrier Reef

Michael Warne, C Neelamraju, J. Strauss, R.D.R. Turner, R.A. Smith, R.M. Mann

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Pesticides decrease the quality of water reaching the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), Australia. Up to 86 pesticide active ingredients (PAIs) were monitored between July 2015 to end of June 2018 at 28 sites in waterways that discharge to the GBR. Twenty-two frequently detected PAIs were selected to calculate their combined risk when they co-occur in watersamples. Species sensitivity distributions (SSDs) for the 22 PAIs to fresh and marine species were developed. The SSDs, the multi-substance potentially affected fraction (msPAF) method, Independent Action model of joint toxicity and a Multiple Imputation method were combined to convert measured PAI concentration data to estimates of the Total Pesticide Risk for the 22 PAIs (TPR22) expressed as the average percentage of species affected during the wet season (i.e., 182 days). The TPR22 and percent contribution of active ingredients of Photosystem II inhibiting herbicides, Other Herbicides, and Insecticides to the TPR22 were estimated. The TPR22 ranged from <1 % to 42 % of aquatic species being affected. Approximately 85 % of the TPR22 estimates were >1 % — meaning they did not meet the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan's pesticide target for waters entering the GBR. There were marked spatial differences in TPR22 estimates — regions dominated by grazing had lower estimates while those with sugar cane tended to have higher estimates. On average, active ingredients of PSII herbicides contributed 39 % of the TPR22, the active ingredients of Other Herbicides contributed ∼36 % and of Insecticides contributed ~24 %. Nine PAIs (diuron, imidacloprid, metolachlor, atrazine, MCPA, imazapic, metsulfuron, triclopyr and ametryn) were responsible for>97 % of TPR22 across all the monitored waterways.
Original languageEnglish
Article number164632
Number of pages13
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date7 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

This is an open access article under the CC BY license (


  • Pesticide active ingredients
  • Mixtures
  • Toxicity
  • Independent action
  • Risk
  • Rivers
  • Great Barrier Reef


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