Mitigating the risk of atrazine exposure: Identifying hot spots and hot times in surface waters across Nebraska, USA

Samuel P. Hansen, Tiffany L. Messer, Aaron R. Mittelstet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Atrazine, one of the most widely used herbicides in the world, threatens human health along with terrestrial and aquatic biota. Recent reports have found atrazine in drinking water to be associated with increased birth defects and incidences of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, with higher levels of significance from exposure to both atrazine and nitrate-N. The Midwest region of the United States, which includes Nebraska, is one of the leading regions for high nitrate-N concentrations and agrochemicals, including atrazine, in surface waters. Therefore, the objective of this study was to provide a case study for completing an environmental risk analysis for the potential exposure of atrazine and nitrate-N to ecosystems and humans through interaction with surface waters using two approaches: (1) Identify watersheds across Nebraska that were at risk for exceeding atrazine and nitrate-N maximum contaminant limits (MCLs) in surface water; and (2) Determine the specific times of year where risks were greatest. Factors were then analyzed using Geographic Information System (GIS) software to identify areas of high risk. Impairments for both nitrate-N and atrazine in the surface water were found predominately during the early growing season in the southeastern region of Nebraska, in watershed areas with the highest amount of corn production and annual precipitation. Further, the methodology developed in this study has the potential for application in regions with higher dependency on surface water to determine multiple agrochemical load influxes from upstream regions and evaluate other surface water contaminants during the same time periods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109424
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - Nov 15 2019


  • Atrazine
  • GIS modeling
  • Health risk assessment
  • MCLs
  • Nitrate-N
  • Pesticides

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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