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Pesticides - Easier detection of pollution and impact in rivers

The long-term effects of pesticides on living organisms in rivers and on water quality can now be assessed more easily.
Researchers from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) have developed a tool that can estimate the harmful effect of pesticides, such as those flushed into rivers and streams from agricultural land, within minutes.

"It used to be very difficult to detect which chronic effects occur," explains Dr Matthias Liess, head of the UFZ’s System Ecotoxicology Department.
In their new approach, the Helmholtz researchers exploit the fact that pesticides cause characteristic changes to the composition of the life community that is affected.

"You just need to find out which living creatures, e.g.
insects and crabs, are found at a certain point along the river and in what numbers," Liess explains. The authorities responsible for water management usually have such data available, he adds. Liess and his colleagues have now set up a Web application where this data can be entered and evaluated to show immediately how high the level of pollution in the rivers under investigation actually is.

Users download an Excel table from the
website and then enter the numbers of each kind of organism found at each sampling site. Once the table is complete it is fed into the ‘SPEAR calculator’ and the user enters the region in which the samples were taken. The calculator immediately shows what the water quality in the area in question is like. Regional data is currently available for Germany, France, Finland and Western Siberia, but the system has also been tested in the UK and in Australia. There is no charge for using the service.

Liess believes the authorities can use the calculation results to take suitable steps to reduce pesticide pollution of rivers. "But our tool can do more than just identify problem areas," the Helmholtz scientist stresses.
It also indicates where unpolluted stretches of river are compensating for the effect of the pollution. This is extremely important because it can show when conservation methods have been successful. Another advantage of the new tool is that in many cases, complex, expensive chemical analyses will no longer be necessary.
Jörg Aberger

Further information:
Dr. Matthias Liess
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)
Phone: +49-341-235-1578, +49-151-527 390 36
Tilo Arnhold (UFZ press officer)
Phone: +49-341-235-1269

Beketov M.A., Foit K., Schäfer R.B., Schriever C.A., Sacchi A., Capri E., Biggs J., Wells C., Liess, M. (2009):
SPEAR indicates pesticide effects in streams – comparative use of species- and family-level biomonitoring data.
Environmental Pollution 157(6), June 2009, 1841-1848
The study was supported by the Environment Agency of England and Wales and by the European Union.


At the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) scientists research the causes and consequences of far-reaching environmental changes. They study water resources, biological diversity, the consequences of climate change and adaptation possibilities, environmental and biotechnologies, bio energy, the behaviour of chemicals in the environment and their effect on health, as well as modelling and social science issues. Their guiding research principle is supporting the sustainable use of natural resources and helping to secure these basic requirements of life over the long term under the influence of global change. The UFZ employs 900 people at its sites in Leipzig, Halle and Magdeburg. It is funded by the German government and by the states of Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.
The Helmholtz Association helps solve major, pressing challenges facing society, science and the economy with top scientific achievements in six research areas: Energy, Earth and Environment, Health, Key Technologies, Structure of Matter, Transport and Space. With 28,000 employees in 15 research centres and an annual budget of around EUR 2.4 billion, the Helmholtz Association is Germany’s largest scientific organisation. Its work follows in the tradition of the great natural scientist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894).

Tilo Arnhold | UFZ News
Further information:

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