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How long do pesticides stay in the soil?

How long does it take for fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides to break down in the soil or do these chemicals stay in the soil indefinitely?

Submitted by: LKA


Expert response from Wayne Parrott

Professor, Crop Breeding and Genetics, University of Georgia

Friday, 01/04/2016 20:24

Pesticides such as herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides vary in the amount of time they break down in the environment by the specific pesticide, the rate applied, and environmental conditions. We measure how long pesticides persist in the environment by a measure called half-life or how long it takes the original material to be reduced by 50%. Under most situations we would encounter in an agricultural setting, a pesticide half-life can range from a few hours to 4-5 years. Most pesticides are broken down by microbes in the soil, so environmental conditions that reduce microbial activity (cold, dry conditions) will extend pesticide remaining in the soil.  In general, the trend is for the newer pesticides to last far less than those used decades ago (eg, DDT).  In some parts of the world, copper-based fungicides are still used, and these will last forever in the soil, for all practical intents and purposes.


Here is a graph from the USDA-ERS that should be helpful: