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Research article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

Assessment of pesticides in surface water samples from Swedish agricultural areas by integrated bioanalysis and chemical analysis

Lundqvist, Johan; von Bromssen, Claudia; Rosenmai, Anna Kjerstine; Ohlsson, Asa; Le Godec, Theo; Jonsson, Ove; Kreuger, Jenny; Oskarsson, Agneta


Background Pesticide residue contamination of surface water in agricultural areas can have adverse effects on the ecosystem. We have performed an integrated chemical and bioanalytical profiling of surface water samples from Swedish agricultural areas, aiming to assess toxic activity due to presence of pesticides. A total of 157 water samples were collected from six geographical sites with extensive agricultural activity. The samples were chemically analyzed for 129 commonly used pesticides and transformation products. Furthermore, the toxicity was investigated using in vitro bioassays in the water samples following liquid-liquid extraction. Endpoints included oxidative stress response (Nrf2 activity), estrogen receptor (ER) activity, and aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) activity. The bioassays were performed with a final enrichment factor of 5 for the water samples. All bioassays were conducted at non-cytotoxic conditions. Results A total of 51 pesticides and transformation products were detected in the water samples. Most of the compounds were herbicides, followed by fungicides, insecticides and transformation products. The highest total pesticide concentration in an individual sample was 39 mu g/L, and the highest median total concentration at a sample site was 1.1 mu g/L. The largest number of pesticides was 31 in a single sample. We found that 3% of the water samples induced oxidative stress response, 23% of the samples activated the estrogen receptor, and 77% of the samples activated the aryl hydrocarbon receptor. Using Spearman correlation coefficients, a statistically significant correlation was observed between AhR and ER activities, and AhR activity was strongly correlated with oxidative stress in samples with a high AhR activity. Statistically significant relationships were observed between bioactivities and individual pesticides, although the relationships are probably not causal, due to the low concentrations of pesticides. Co-occurrence of non-identified chemical pollutants and naturally occurring toxic compounds may be responsible for the induced bioactivities. Conclusions This study demonstrated that integrated chemical analysis and bioanalysis can be performed in water samples following liquid/liquid extraction with a final enrichment factor of 5. AhR and ER activities were induced in water samples from agricultural areas. The activities were presumably not caused by the occurrence of pesticides, but induced by other anthropogenic and natural chemicals.


Bioassays; Oxidative stress; Nrf2; Estrogen receptor; Aryl hydrocarbon receptor; Pesticides; Surface water

Published in

Environmental Sciences Europe
2019, Volume: 31, number: 1, article number: 53