Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 23, Issue 23, pp 23436–23448 | Cite as

Cross-sectional biomonitoring study of pesticide exposures in Queensland, Australia, using pooled urine samples

  • AL HeffernanEmail author
  • K English
  • LML Toms
  • AM Calafat
  • L Valentin-Blasini
  • P Hobson
  • S Broomhall
  • RS Ware
  • P Jagals
  • PD Sly
  • JF Mueller
Research Article


A range of pesticides are available in Australia for use in agricultural and domestic settings to control pests, including organophosphate and pyrethroid insecticides, herbicides, and insect repellents, such as N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET). The aim of this study was to provide a cost-effective preliminary assessment of background exposure to a range of pesticides among a convenience sample of Australian residents. De-identified urine specimens stratified by age and sex were obtained from a community-based pathology laboratory and pooled (n = 24 pools of 100 specimens). Concentrations of urinary pesticide biomarkers were quantified using solid-phase extraction coupled with isotope dilution high-performance liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry. Geometric mean biomarker concentrations ranged from <0.1 to 36.8 ng/mL for organophosphate insecticides, <0.1 to 5.5 ng/mL for pyrethroid insecticides, and <0.1 to 8.51 ng/mL for all other biomarkers with the exception of the DEET metabolite 3-diethylcarbamoyl benzoic acid (4.23 to 850 ng/mL). We observed no association between age and concentration for most biomarkers measured but noted a “U-shaped” trend for five organophosphate metabolites, with the highest concentrations observed in the youngest and oldest age strata, perhaps related to age-specific differences in behavior or physiology. The fact that concentrations of specific and non-specific metabolites of the organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos were higher than reported in USA and Canada may relate to differences in registered applications among countries. Additional biomonitoring programs of the general population and focusing on vulnerable populations would improve the exposure assessment and the monitoring of temporal exposure trends as usage patterns of pesticide products in Australia change over time.


Biomonitoring Urine Pesticides Organophosphate Pyrethroid Children 



The authors wish to thank the staff at Entox and Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology Taringa for their assistance with the sample collection and pooling. We also gratefully acknowledge Sam Baker, Mark Davis, Angela Montesano, and other CDC staff for their technical assistance in measuring the urinary concentrations of the pesticide biomarkers. ALH is funded by an NHMRC-ARC Fellowship (APP1106911), KE by an Australian Government Postgraduate Award, LMT by an ARC DECRA (DE120100161), PDS is an NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow (no. 1102590), and JFM is an ARC Future Fellow (FF120100546). The authors would like to thank the Australian Government Department of the Environment for their financial support. The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health acknowledges the strong support from the Victorian Government and in particular the funding from the Operational Infrastructure Support Grant. Entox is a joint venture of the University of Queensland and the Queensland Department of Health.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the CDC or the views of the Australian Department of the Environment.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary Material 1 (DOC 13.6 kb)
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Supplementary Material 2 (DOC 150 kb)
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Supplementary Material 3 (DOC 132 kb)
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Supplementary Material 4 (DOC 158 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • AL Heffernan
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • K English
    • 3
    • 4
  • LML Toms
    • 5
  • AM Calafat
    • 6
  • L Valentin-Blasini
    • 6
  • P Hobson
    • 7
  • S Broomhall
    • 8
  • RS Ware
    • 4
    • 9
  • P Jagals
    • 4
    • 9
  • PD Sly
    • 4
  • JF Mueller
    • 1
  1. 1.National Research Centre for Environmental ToxicologyThe University of QueenslandCoopers PlainsAustralia
  2. 2.The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental HealthParkvilleAustralia
  3. 3.School of MedicineThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  4. 4.Children’s Health and Environment Program, Child Health Research CentreThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  5. 5.School of Public Health and Social Work and Institute of Health and Biomedical InnovationQueensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia
  6. 6.Centers for Disease Control and PreventionAtlantaUSA
  7. 7.Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology TaringaTaringaAustralia
  8. 8.Australian Government Department of the EnvironmentCanberraAustralia
  9. 9.School of Public HealthThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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