Towards quantifying atmospheric dispersion of pesticide spray drift in Yuma County Arizona

Sunyi Yuan, Avelino F. Arellano, Lauren Knickrehm, Hsin I Chang, Christopher L. Castro, Melissa Furlong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


While pesticide vapor and particles from agricultural spray drift have been reported to pose a risk to public health, limited baseline ambient measurements exist to warrant an accurate assessment of their impacts at community-to-county-wide scale. Here, we present an initial modeling investigation of the transport and deposition of applied pesticides in an agricultural county in Arizona (Yuma County), to provide initial estimates on the corresponding enhancements in ambient levels of these spray drifts downwind of application sites. With a 50 × 50 km domain, we use the dispersion model CALPUFF with meteorology from the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) to investigate the spatiotemporal distribution of pesticide abundance due to spray drift from a representative sample of nine application sites. Data records for nine application days in September and October 2011, which are the peak months of pesticide application, were retroactively simulated for 48-h for all nine application sites using an active ingredient lambda-cyhalothrin, which is a commonly-used pesticide in the county. Twenty-one WRF/CALPUFF simulations were conducted with varying emissions, chemical lifetime, deposition rate, application height, and meteorology inputs, allowing for an ensemble-based analysis on the possible ranges in modeled abundance. Our results show that dispersion of vapors released at time of application heavily depends on prevailing meteorology, particularly wind speed and direction. Dispersion is limited to thin plumes that are easily transported out of the domain. The ensemble-mean vapor concentrations of the 48-h average (> 90 percentile domain-wide) range from 0.2 nanograms(ng)/m3 to 200 ng/m3, and the peak can be as high as 1000 ng/m3 near the application sites. Pesticide particles are mainly deposited within 1–2 km from the application sites at an average rate of 106ng/km2/h but vary with particle mean diameter and standard deviation. While these findings are generally consistent with reported ambient levels in the literature, the associated ensemble-spread on these estimates are in the same order of magnitude as their ensemble-mean. At the two nearby communities downwind of these sites, we find that peak vapor concentrations are less than 50 ng/m3 with exposure times of less than an hour, as approximately 99.4% of the vapors are advected out and 99.5% of the particles deposit within the domain. Results of this study indicate pesticide spray drift from a sample of application sites and representative days in Fall may have a limited impact on neighboring communities. However, we strongly suggest that field measurements should be collected for model validation and more rigorous investigation of the actual scale of these impacts when the bulk of pesticide applications across the county, variation in active pesticide ingredients, and potential resuspension of deposited particles are considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number120262
JournalAtmospheric Environment
StatePublished - Feb 15 2024


  • Chemical lifetime
  • Ensemble
  • Mean and peak concentrations
  • Model study
  • Pesticide spray drift

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Atmospheric Science


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