Toxicity of anionic Polyacrylamide formulations when used for erosion control in agriculture

Addition of anionic polyacrylamide (PAM) to agricultural irrigation water can dramatically reduce erosion of soils. However, the toxicity of PAM to aquatic life, while often claimed to be low, has not been thoroughly evaluated. Five PAM formulations, including two oil-based products, one water-based product, one granular product and one tablet product, were evaluated for acute and/or chronic toxicity to five species commonly used for freshwater toxicity testing [Hyalella azteca (Saussure), Chironomus dilutus (Shobanov et al.), Ceriodaphnia dubia (Richard), Pimephales promelas (Rafinesque), and Selenastrum capricornutum (Printz)]. When applied as an oil-based product, acute toxicity was seen to four of the five species at concentrations less than the 10 mg/L that is often used for erosion control. Toxicity was diminished, but still remained, after passage of the irrigation water across an agricultural field, indicating a potential impact to nearby surface waters. Results from the non-oil-based products indicated minimal toxicity associated with PAM even at concentrations 10 times those used in agriculture when applied in the granular form, as a tablet, or in a water-based liquid. These data suggest that other agents in the oil-based products, such as surfactants or emulsifiers, rather than the PAM itself, contribute to the toxicity. Care is required in selecting an appropriate PAM formulation when the potential exists for entry of tailwater to nearby surface waters.

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