An ecological risk assessment of pesticides and fish kills in the Sixaola watershed, Costa Rica

Abstract

Along the southeastern coast of Costa Rica, a variety of pesticides are intensively applied to produce export-quality plantains and bananas. In this region, and in other agricultural areas, fish kills are often documented by local residents and/or in the national news. This study examines principal exposure pathways, measured environmental concentrations, and selected toxicity thresholds of the three most prevalent pesticides (chlorpyrifos, terbufos, and difenoconazole) to construct a deterministic risk assessment for fish mortality. Comparisons of observed pesticide concentrations, along with estimated biological effects and observations during actual fish kills, highlight gaps in knowledge in correlating pesticide environmental concentration and toxicity in tropical environments. Observations of fish kill events and measured pesticide concentrations in the field, along with other water quality indicators, suggest that a number of environmental conditions can interact to cause fish mortality and that current species toxicity datasets may not be applicable for estimating toxicological or other synergistic effects, especially in tropical environments.

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Acknowledgments

This work was funded in part by NSF-IGERT Grant No. 0114304 and by NSF-EPSCoR. We thank the faculty and staff at the Regional Institute for Studies of Toxic Substances (IRET) at Universidad Nacional in Heredia, especially Clemens Ruepert and Luisa Castillo. We thank Thomas Cahill for his review and comments on the manuscript. We also thank the communities of Sixaola, Margarita, Bribri, and Shiroles for their community-based monitoring and dedication to the project.

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Correspondence to Beth A. Polidoro.

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Responsible editor: Thomas Hutchinson

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Polidoro, B.A., Morra, M.J. An ecological risk assessment of pesticides and fish kills in the Sixaola watershed, Costa Rica. Environ Sci Pollut Res 23, 5983–5991 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-016-6144-0

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Keywords

  • Chlorpyrifos
  • Hazard quotient
  • Latin America
  • Bananas
  • Water quality
  • Toxicology