Information about pesticides in the environment

Last changed: 05 May 2020
A person picking an apple, illustration.

On the following pages we have compiled knowledge about pesticides, primarily plant protection products, and their spread in the environment. The information provided includes: history, use, incidence and status in the environment, sampling and analyses and education and research.

Chemical pesticides have historically acted as something of an alarm system on undesirable environmental and health effects of modern development. Few subjects have played such a prominent role in the environmental debate – a debate which is still relevant in many ways, particularly in a global perspective.

Much of the Swedish environmental protection work being done today is pursued through the 16 environmental quality objectives established by the government. It is mainly the environmental quality objective ‘a non-toxic environment’ that affects the work on the risks associated with chemical pesticides. This environmental quality objective states that:

The occurrence of man-made or extracted substances in the environment must not represent a threat to human health or biological diversity. Concentrations of non-naturally occurring substances will be close to zero and their impacts on human health and on ecosystems will be negligible. Concentrations of naturally occurring substances will be close to background levels.

Chemical pesticides should thus actually not be encountered in nature. However, in sampling and environmental monitoring programmes, it has been found that a range of different compounds are detected in surface water and groundwater every year. Knowledge of how ecosystems are affected by this is limited. An important question for the future is how we can ensure a secure food supply without simultaneously poisoning our waters, in the light of a future changing climate. Work on reducing the risks associated with the use of pesticides requires a holistic approach to the use of natural resources, together with better knowledge of how these pesticides act in the environment and their effects.

One of the main tasks of the CKB is to raise awareness of pesticides in the environment. The following pages contain general information concerning this area under the headings:

Pesticides in a historical perspective

Here we provide a short historical background on the use of pesticides and the debate they have aroused over the years.

Use of pesticides 

Here there is a brief summary of what pesticides are, the main modes of action, why they are used and how EU regulations affect their use.   

Pathways of pesticide spread in the environment

Here we provide a general orientating picture on how pesticides are spread in the environment, the soil characteristics most affected, biological breakdown and how to assess the risk of spread to the environment.    

Environmental impacts of pesticides

This provides a description of what we know about the environmental effects of pesticides on aquatic environments and terrestrial ecosystems. It also clearly shows the great gaps in knowledge that exist in this area. 

Status of lakes and streams

Here we provide a general overview of the environmental status in a risk perspective, with a compilation of recent results from national environmental monitoring of pesticides and various regional investigations.

Climate change and pesticides

A changed climate can have an effect on the use of pesticides, and also on losses of pesticides to the environment. Read more about current research here.

Sampling and analysis

This section provides advice and guidance for those planning to investigate which pesticides are present in surface waters or groundwater or those wishing to order pesticide analyses.   

Current education and research 

A summary is provided here of various national and international initiatives in research and training with the aim of reducing the risks to the environment from pesticide use.


Mikaela Gönczi, Director
SLU Centre for Pesticides in the Environment, +46 18-67 31 05