Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Comparison of the Relative Efficacies of Granulated Activated Carbon and Biochar to Reduce Chlorpyrifos and Imidacloprid Loading and Toxicity Using Laboratory Bench Scale Experiments


Pesticide loads and associated toxicity can be significantly reduced using integrated vegetated treatment systems, which remove moderately soluble and hydrophobic pesticides, but need a sorbent material to remove more soluble pesticides. Neonicotinoids such as imidacloprid are widely used insecticides, acutely toxic, and have been linked to a range of ecological effects. Laboratory experiments were conducted to test the sorptive capacity of granulated activated carbon and biochar for removing imidacloprid and the organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos in a scaled-down treatment system. Simulated irrigation water spiked with individual pesticides was treated with a bench-top system designed to mimic a 600 L carbon installation receiving 108,000 L of flow per day for sixteen days. Biochar reduced insecticides to less than detectable and non-toxic levels. Granulated activated carbon similarly reduced chlorpyrifos, but allowed increasing concentrations of imidacloprid to break through. Both media treated environmentally relevant concentrations, and would be effective if used under conditions with reduced particle loads.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Ahmed MB, Zhou JL, Ngo HH, Guo WS, Chen MF (2014) Progress in the preparation and application of modified biochar for improved contaminant removal from water and wastewater. Bioresour Technol 214:836–851

  2. Anderson BS, Phillips BM, Hunt JW, Largay B, Shihadeh R, Berretti M (2011) Pesticide and toxicity reduction using an integrated vegetated treatment system. Environ Toxicol Chem 30:1036–1043

  3. Anderson BS, Phillips BM, Siegler K (2016) Evaluation of potential for stormwater toxicity reduction by low impact development (LID) treatment systems. California Department of Water Resources, Sacramento, pp 1–30

  4. Anderson BS, Phillips BM, Voorhees JP, Deng X, Geraci J, Worcester K, Tjeerdema RS (2018) Changing patterns in toxicity associated with current use pesticides in agriculture runoff in California. Integr Environ Assess Manag 14:270–281

  5. Bailey HC, Miller JL, Miller MJ, Wiborg LC, Deanovic LA, Shed T (1997) Joint acute toxicity of diazinon and chlorpyrifos to Ceriodaphnia dubia Environ Toxicol Chem 16:2304–2308

  6. Bhatnagar A, Sillanpaa M (2010) Utilization of agro-industrial and municipal waste materials as potential adsorbents for water treatment-a review. Chem Eng J 157(2–3):277–296

  7. Cederlund H, Borjesson E, Stenstrom J (2017) Effects of a wood-based biochar on the leaching of pesticides chlorpyrifos, diuron, glyphosate and MCPA. J Environ Manag 191:28–34

  8. Cha JS, Park SH, Jung SC, Ryu C, Jeon JK, Shin MC, Park YK (2016) Production and utilization of biochar: a review. J Ind Eng Chem 40:1–15

  9. Dias JM, Alvim-Ferraz MCM, Almeida MF, Rivera-Utrilla J, Sanchez-Polo M (2007) Waste materials for activated carbon preparation and its use in aqueous-phase treatment: a review. J Environ Manag 85(4):833–846

  10. Dirzo R, Young HS, Galetti M, Ceballos G, Isaac NJB, Collen B (2014) Defaunation in the anthropocene. Science (Washington D C) 345(6195):401–406

  11. Gwenzi W, Chaukura N, Noubactep C, Mukome FND (2017) Biochar-based water treatment systems as a potential low-cost and sustainable technology for clean water provision. J Environ Manag 197:732–749

  12. Jin J, Kang M, Sun K, Pan Z, Wu F, Xing B (2016) Properties of biochar-amended soils and their sorption of imidacloprid, isoproturon, and atrazine. Sci Total Environ 550:504–513

  13. Kearns JP, Knappe DRU, Summers RS (2014) Synthetic organic water contaminants in developing communities: an overlooked challenge addressed by adsorption with locally generated char. J Water Sanit Hyg Dev 4(3):422–436

  14. Lehmann J, Joseph S (2009) Biochar for environmental management: an introduction. Biochar for environmental management. Earthscan, New York, pp 1–12

  15. Lovasi GS, Quinn JW, Rauh VA, Perera FP, Andrews HF, Garfinkel R, Hoepner L, Whyatt R, Rundle A (2011) Chlorpyrifos exposure and urban residential environment characteristics as determinants of early childhood neurodevelopment. Am J Public Health 101:63–70

  16. Mohan D, Sarswat A, Sik Ok Y, Pittman SU (2014) Organic and inorganic contaminants removal from water with biochar, a renewable, low cost and sustainable adsorbent—a critical review. Bioresour Technol 160:191–202

  17. Mohanty SK, Valenca R, Berger AW, Yu IKM, Xiong XN, Saunders TM, Tsang DCW (2018) Plenty of room for carbon on the ground: potential applications of biochar for stormwater treatment. Sci Total Environ 625:1644–1658

  18. Morrissey CA, Mineau P, Devries JH, Sanchez-Bayo F, Liess M, Cavallaro MC, Liber K (2015) Neonicotinoid contamination of global surface waters and associated risk to aquatic invertebrates: a review. Environ Int 74:291–303

  19. Phillips BM, Anderson BA, Cahn M, Rego JL, Voorhees JP, Siegler C, Zhang X, Budd R, Goh K, Tjeerdema RS (2017) An integrated vegetated ditch system reduces chlorpyrifos loading in agricultural runoff. Integr Environ Assess Manag 13:423–430

  20. Raby M, Nowierski M, Perlov D, Zhao X, Hao C, Poirier DG, Sibley PK (2018) Acute toxicity of 6 neonicotinoid insecticides to freshwater invertebrates. Environ Toxicol Chem 37:1430–1445

  21. Simon-Delso N, Amaral-Rogers V, Belzunces LP, Bonmatin JM, Chagnon M, Downs C, Furlan L, Gibbons DW, Giorio C, Girolami V, Goulson D, Kreutzweiser DP, Krupke CH, Liess M, Long E, McField M, Mineau P, Mitchell EAD, Morrissey CA, Noome DA, Pisa L, Settele J, Stark JD, Tapparo A, Van Dyck H, Van Praagh J, Van der Sluijs JP, Whitehorn PR, Wiemers M (2015) Systemic insecticides (neonicotinoids and fipronil): trends, uses, mode of action and metabolites. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int 22(1):5–34

  22. Sophia CA, Lima EC (2018) Removal of emerging contaminants from the environment by adsorption. Ecotoxicol Environ Saf 150:1–17

  23. Taha SM, Amer ME, Elmarsafy AE, Elkady MY (2014) "Adsorption of 15 different pesticides on untreated and phosphoric acid treated biochar and charcoal from water". J Environ Chem Eng 2(4):2013–2025

  24. U.S. EPA (2002) Methods for measuring acute toxicity of effluents and receiving water to freshwater and marine organisms. EPA-821-R-02-012. Office of Research and Development, Washington, D.C.

  25. Ulrich BA, Loehnert M, Higgins CP (2017) Improved contaminant removal in vegetated stormwater biofilters amended with biochar. Environ Sci Water Res Technol 3(4):726–734

  26. van der Sluijs JP, Goulson S-DND, Maxim L, Bonmatin JM, Belzunces LP (2013) Neonicotinoids, bee disorders and the sustainability of pollinator services. Curr Opin Environ Sustain 5:293–305

  27. Voorhees JP, Anderson BS, Phillips BM, Tjeerdema RS (2017) Carbon treatment as a method to remove imidacloprid from agriculture runoff. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 99:200–202

  28. Yu X-Y, Ying G-G, Kookana RS (2009) Reduced plant uptake of pesticides with biochar additions to soil. Chemosphere 76(5):665–671

Download references


Funding for this project was provided by the Anthropocene Institute, Palo Alto, California. Imidacloprid analysis was conducted by the UC Davis Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering under the direction of Dr. Thomas Young.

Author information

Correspondence to Jennifer P. Voorhees.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Voorhees, J.P., Phillips, B.M., Anderson, B.S. et al. Comparison of the Relative Efficacies of Granulated Activated Carbon and Biochar to Reduce Chlorpyrifos and Imidacloprid Loading and Toxicity Using Laboratory Bench Scale Experiments. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 104, 327–332 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00128-020-02790-4

Download citation


  • Vegetated treatment system (VTS)
  • Neonicotinoid insecticide
  • Organophosphate insecticide
  • Granulated activated carbon (GAC)
  • Biochar