Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 17, Issue 6, pp 1245–1256 | Cite as

Fate and transport of chlormequat in subsurface environments

  • René K. Juhler
  • Trine Henriksen
  • Annette E. Rosenbom
  • Jeanne Kjaer
Research Article


Background, aim and scope

Chlormequat (Cq) is a plant growth regulator used throughout the world. Despite indications of possible effects of Cq on mammalian health and fertility, little is known about its fate and transport in subsurface environments. The aim of this study was to determine the fate of Cq in three Danish subsurface environments, in particular with respect to retardation of Cq in the A and B horizons and the risk of leaching to the aquatic environment. The study combines laboratory fate studies of Cq sorption and dissipation with field scale monitoring of the concentration of Cq in the subsurface environment, including artificial drains.

Materials and methods

For the laboratory studies, soil was sampled from the A and B horizons at three Danish field research stations—two clayey till sites and one coarse sandy site. Adsorption and desorption were described by means of the distribution coefficient (K d) and the Freundlich adsorption coefficient (K F,ads). The dissipation rate was estimated using soil sampled from the A horizon at the three sites. Half life (DT50) was calculated by approximation to first-order kinetics. A total of 282 water samples were collected at the sites under the field monitoring study— groundwater from shallow monitoring screens located 1.5–4.5 m b.g.s. at all three sites as well as drainage water from the two clayey sites and porewater from suction cups at the sandy site, in both cases from 1 m b.g.s. The samples were analysed using LC-MS/MS. The field monitoring study was supported by hydrological modelling, which provided an overall water balance and a description of soil water dynamics in the vadose zone.


The DT50 of Cq from the A horizon ranged from 21 to 61 days. The Cq concentration-dependant distribution coefficient (K d) ranged from 2 to 566 cm3/g (median 18 cm3/g), and was lowest in the sandy soil (both the A and B horizons). The K F,ads ranged from 3 to 23 (µg1 − 1/n (cm3)1/n g−1) with the exponent (1/n) ranging from 0.44 to 0.87, and was lowest in the soil from the sandy site. Desorption of Cq was very low for the soil types investigated (<10%w). Cq in concentrations exceeding the detection limit (0.01 µg/L) was only found in two of the 282 water samples, the highest concentration being 0.017 µg/L.


That sorption was highest in the clayey till soils is attributable to the composition of the soil, the soil clay and iron content being the main determinant of Cq sorption in both the A and B horizons of the subsurface environment. Cq was not detected in concentrations exceeding the detection limit in either the groundwater or the porewater at the sandy site. The only two samples in which Cq was detected were drainage water samples from the two clayey till sites. The presence of Cq here was probably attributable to the hydrogeological setting as water flow at the two clayey till sites is dominated by macropore flow and less by the flow in the low permeability matrix. In contrast, water flow at the sandy site is dominated by matrix flow in the high permeability matrix, with negligible macropore flow. Given the characteristics of these field sites, Cq adsorption and desorption can be expected to be controlled by the clay composition and content and the iron content. Combining these observations with the findings of the sorption and dissipation studies indicates that the key determinant of Cq retardation and fate in the soil is sorption characteristics and bioavailability.


The leaching risk of Cq was negligible at the clayey till and sandy sites investigated. The adsorption and desorption experiments indicated that absorption of Cq was high at all three sites, in particular at the clayey till sites, and that desorption was generally very limited. The study indicates that leaching of Cq to the groundwater is hindered by sorption and dissipation. The detection of Cq in drainage water at the clayey till sites and the evidence for rapid transport through macropores indicate that heavy precipitation events may cause pulses of Cq.

Recommendations and perspectives

The present study is the first to indicate that the risk of Cq leaching to the groundwater and surface water is low. Prior to any generalisation of the present results, the fate of Cq needs to be studied in other soil types, application regimes and climatic conditions to determine the Cq retardation capacity of the soils. The study identifies bioavailability and heavy precipitation events as important factors when assessing the risk of Cq contamination of the aquatic environment. The possible effects of future climate change need to be considered when assessing whether or not Cq poses an environmental risk.


CCC Chlormequat Chlorocholine chloride Cycocel Freundlich isotherm Groundwater Pesticide Quaternary ammonium herbicides Soil Sorption 



The project was supported financially by Copenhagen Energy (Københavns Energi A/S). We wish to thank P. Stockmarr (GEUS) for skilled technical assistance in connection with method development and sample analysis, P. Olsen (Aarhus University), L. Gudmundsson (GEUS), C. Andersen (Jyndevad Research Station), P. Boesen (Estrup Research Station) and J. Molbo (Silstrup Research Station) for assistance with the field leaching experiments, and D. I. Barry for linguistic assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • René K. Juhler
    • 1
  • Trine Henriksen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Annette E. Rosenbom
    • 1
  • Jeanne Kjaer
    • 1
  1. 1.The Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS)CopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Department of Clinical Pharmacology, Department Q-7642RigshospitaletCopenhagenDenmark

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