Chiral pesticides: identification, description, and environmental implications

Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 2012;217:1-74. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4614-2329-4_1.


Of the 1,693 pesticides considered in this review, 1,594 are organic chemicals, 47 are inorganic chemicals, 53 are of biological origin (largely non chemical; insect,fungus, bacteria, virus, etc.), and 2 have an undetermined structure. Considering that the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs found 1,252 pesticide active ingredients(EPA Pesticides Customer Service 2011), we consider this dataset to be comprehensive; however, no direct comparison of the compound lists was undertaken. Of all pesticides reviewed, 482 (28%) are chiral; 30% are chiral when considering only the organic chemical pesticides. A graph of this distribution is shown in Fig. 7a. Each pesticide is classified with up to three pesticidal utilities (e.g., fungicide, plant growth regulator, rodenticide, etc.), taken first from the Pesticide Manual as a primary source, and the Compendium of Common Pesticide Names website as a secondary source. Of the chiral pesticides, 195 (34%) are insecticides (including attractants, pheromones, and repellents), 150 (27%) are herbicides (including plant growth regulators and herbicide safeners), 104 (18%) are fungicides, and 55 (10%)are acaricides. The distribution of chiral pesticides by utility is shown in Fig. 7b,including categories of pesticides that make up 3%t or less of the usage categories.Figure 7c shows a similar distribution of non chiral pesticide usage categories. Of the chiral pesticides, 270 (56%) have one chiral feature, 105 (22%) have two chiral features, 30 (6.2%) have three chiral features, and 29 (6.0%) have ten or more chiral features.Chiral chemicals pose many difficulties in stereospecific synthesis, characterization, and analysis. When these compounds are purposely put into the environment,even more interesting complications arise in tracking, monitoring, and predicting their fate and risks. More than 475 pesticides are chiral, as are other chiral contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, polychlorinated biphenyls, brominated flame retardants, synthetic musks, and their degradates (Kallenborn and Hiihnerfuss 2001;Heeb et al. 2007; Hihnerfuss and Shah 2009). The stereoisomers of pesticides can have widely different efficacy, toxicity to nontarget organisms, and metabolic rates in biota. For these reasons, it is important to first be aware of likely fate and effect differences, to incorporate molecular asymmetry insights into research projects, and to study the individual stereoisomers of the applied pesticide material.With the advent of enantioselective chromatography techniques, the chirality of pesticides has been increasingly studied. While the ChirBase (Advanced ChemistryDevelopment 1997-2010) database does not include all published chiral analytical separations, it does contain more than 3,500 records for 146 of the 482 chiral pesticides (30%). The majority of the records are found in the liquid chromatography database (2,677 or 76%), followed by the gas chromatography database (652 or 18%),and the capillary electrophoresis database (203 or 6%). The finding that only 30% of the chiral pesticides covered in this review have entries in ChirBase highlights the need for expanded efforts to develop additional enantioselective chromatographic methods. Other techniques (e.g., nuclear magnetic resonance and other spectroscopy)are available for investigation of chiral compounds, but often are not utilized because of cost, complexity, or simply not recognizing that a pesticide is chiral.In this review, we have listed and have briefly described the general nature of chiral fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, and other miscellaneous classes. A data-set generated for this review contains 1,693 pesticides, the number of enantioselective separation records in ChirBase, pesticide usage class, SMILES structure string and counts of stereogenic centers. This dataset is publically available for download at the following website: With the information herein coupled to the publically accessible dataset, we can begin to develop the tools to handle molecular asymmetry as it applies to agrochemicals.Additional structure-based resources would allow further analysis of key parameters (e.g., exposure, toxicity, environmental fate, degradation, and risks) for individual stereoisomers of chiral compounds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Factual
  • Environmental Pollutants / chemistry*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Molecular Structure
  • Pesticides / chemistry*
  • Pesticides / toxicity*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Pesticides