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ACS Meeting News

Herbicide application may be a source of atmospheric amine pollution

Researchers found that amines commonly applied alongside herbicides can readily volatilize

by Krystal Vasquez
August 23, 2022

A tractor spraying herbicides over a wheat field.
Credit: Shutterstock
Herbicide salts applied to crops like wheat may be a source of atmospheric amine pollution.

Researchers have found evidence that common herbicide salts may be an overlooked source of amine pollution to the atmosphere, where they can oxidize to form potential carcinogens or contribute to the formation of particulate matter.

Farmers frequently apply herbicides as amine-containing salts in order to reduce the herbicides’ volatility and prevent them from drifting to nearby fields. But in a Monday talk in the Division of Environmental Chemistry at the ACS Fall 2022 meeting, Washington University in St. Louis PhD student Stephen Sharkey reported that these amines can readily volatilize. In one experiment, Sharkey found that nearly 90% of the amine was lost to the air.

To the best of the researchers’ knowledge, this work is the first to look into the environmental fate of the amines in these herbicide salts. Although previous work has looked into how the herbicide itself moves throughout the environment, “we have a tendency to overlook the chemicals that are applied alongside the active agents,” explained Kimberly Parker, an environmental chemist at the same university and the senior researcher on the amine project. In a call with C&EN, Parker said she was surprised that others have overlooked this potential amine source.

Herbicide salts are in wide use. Using publicly available data from 2017, the research team estimated that approximately 66 thousand metric tons of three common herbicides—glyphosate, dicamba, 2,4-D—were applied to agricultural land as amine salts in the US. Much more is likely used abroad, Parker added.


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