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DFWI Research:

Hudson River Estuary Pesticide Research


Environmental science and policy are generally developed and implemented in a disjointed and time-consuming process.  This lack of coordination often results in policies that do not realistically reflect ever-changing real-world conditions and in research that is not targeted at providing data necessary to develop sound policies (Quevaulviller, et. al, 2005). 

One model that could potentially resolve this problem is to develop projects that simultaneously analyze specific environmental policies while conducting rigorous scientific investigations regarding the effectiveness of the policies and the intended objective of the policies.  This project is intended to utilize and evaluate this approach with pesticide-use policy and the ecosystem effects of pesticides as the test system.  Specifically, this project will test the following hypothesis:

Pesticide-use policies in the Hudson River Estuary Watershed result in biological systems being exposed to sub-lethal concentrations of pesticides that lead to reduced estuary ecosystem health.


The Hudson River Estuary (estuary) is approximately 154 miles long, stretching from the Federal Dam in Troy, New York, to the terminus in New York Harbor.  The drainage area of the estuary watershed including the Upper Hudson River and the Mohawk River (the major inputs to the estuary) is approximately 13,400 square miles.

The watershed of the estuary includes urban, industrial, residential and agricultural land uses.  Pesticide use is common in all four land use schemes.  In 2005, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation reported 5.8 million pounds and 1.47 million gallons of pesticide were applied by commercial applicators in the counties immediately adjacent to the Hudson River Estuary (DEC, 2007). The array of pesticides used and the intensity of use may vary between the primary land use types; however, there is a significant import of pesticides into the environment throughout the estuary watershed.   Many classes ofpesticides, including organophosphate and carbamate pesticides have been identified in the tributaries surrounding theestuary (Litten, 2003 Wall and Phillips, 1998).  These pesticides have both acute and chronic effects on non-target species and can be accumulated throughout the food chain.


Project Approach: 

To test the project hypothesis, three separate but related lines of investigation will be conducted.

  1. Ecosystem Analysis:  A temporal and spatial community structure evaluation in conjunction with monitoring ambient levels of pesticides in the estuary, selected tributaries and biota.
  2. Toxicological Analysis:  Laboratory experiments conducted to determine the toxicological effects of ambient levels of pesticides on, the Spottail Shiner (Notropis hudsonius), a common indigenous fish species in the estuary.
  3. Policy Analysis:  An analysis of the pesticide policies that relate to the estuary watershed to determine how these policies relate to actual environmental levels.

Ecosystem Analysis: 

The ecosystem line of investigation is designed to describe ambient conditions and community structure in both the abiotic and biotic environments at the confluence of four individual tributaries to the estuary.  Pesticide import into the selected communities is determined by sampling the selected tributaries.  The sampling regime will include monthly sampling in the Hudson and selected tributaries as well as storm surge sampling for the tributaries.  The purpose of this investigation will be to begin to understand the differences in ecological communities in the estuary and how selected pesticides are stored and transferred through these systems.


Toxicological Analysis: 

The toxicological line of investigation is designed to describe the synergistic effects of pesticides found in the Hudson River Estuary on a resident fish species.  The primary model used in toxicological investigations is to understand the effects of individual constituents.  However, for most large ecological systems, it is unusual to find only single contaminants; rather these types of systems usually have multiple contaminants cycling through the biota.  To address this, a series of LC50, behavioral and enzymatic toxicology investigations will be conducted to determine the synergistic effect of the target constituents on the target organism.  The suite of pesticides that account for ~80% of the total ambient level of these pesticides will be included in the analysis.


Policy Analysis: 

Due to the variety of uses for pesticides (i.e. agricultural and residential), pesticide-use policies are often developed, implemented and enforced by different governmental organizations.  Pesticide policies within the Hudson River Estuary watershed will be analyzed to determine the impact of individual policies on the release of pesticides into the environment and how different policies relate to each other.

Result Integration: 

This culminating step in the process will synthesize the data to answer the question raised by the project hypothesis.  Specifically, does the current array of pesticide-use policies in the Hudson River Estuary Watershed prevent contaminants from impacting the health of the estuary?



The Hudson River Estuary Ecosystem Project is designed to demonstrate that environmental science and environmental policy can be evaluated in a single, comprehensive project to determine the efficacy of environmental policy.  Specifically, a multidisciplinary approach has been developed to test the hypothesis:

Pesticide-use policies in the Hudson River Estuary Watershed result in biological systems being exposed to sub-lethal concentrations of pesticides that lead to reduced estuary ecosystem health.



Quevaulviller, P., P. Balabanis, C. Fragakis, M. Weydert, M. Oliver, A. Kaschl, G. Arnold, A. Kroll, L. Galbiati, J.M. Zaldivar and G. Bidoglio. 2005.  Science-Policy integration needs in support of the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive.  Environmental Science & Policy.  Vol. 8, pp. 203-211.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 2007.  Final Annual Report for New York State Pesticide Sales and Applications 2005.  New York State DEC, Albany, New York.

Wall, G.R. and P.J. Phillips. 1998.  Pesticides in the Hudson River Basin, 1994-96.  Northeastern Geology and Environmental Sciences.  Vol. 20, No. 4 pp. 299-307

Litten, S. 2003. Contaminant Assessment and Reduction Project - CARP.  New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Bureau of Water Assessment and Management, York State Department of Environmental Conservation.  Albany, New York




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