The aim of this study was to investigate the seasonal and spatial variations in the concentrations of a widely used organophosphorous pesticide (OPP), diazinon, and the associated risk posed by this OPP in the surface water from the three largest rivers located in the northern province of Iran: the Haraz, the Talar and the Babolrood rivers. These rivers are located in the agriculture province of Mazandaran, and are exposed to high doses of organophosphorus pesticides, especially diazinon. The concentration of diazinon was determined using gas chromatography, while the potential risk posed by diazinon was elucidated using a Risk Quotient (RQ) calculated for general (RQm) and worst-case (RQex) scenarios. The obtained results demonstrated that the average diazinon concentrations ranged from 41 ± 76 ng/L in the Talar River and 57 ± 116 ng/L in the Haraz River, to 76.5 ± 145 ng/L in the Babolrood River, with a significant difference noted between summer and autumn seasons for all three rivers. For some stations, the concentration of diazinon is higher than the standard guidelines of Australian/New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality (FMWQ) and the United States Criteria Maximum Concentration (CMC). The calculated RQs indicated a medium risk of diazinon, RQm = 0.73 and RQex = 2.27, in the Talar River; RQm = 1.02 and RQex = 2.49 in the Haraz River; and RQm = 1.35 and RQex = 4.54 in the Babolrood River. The overall exposure of diazinon was defined to have a high risk (RQm and RQex > 1); however, the summer sampling revealed a high risk (RQm and RQex > 1), while the autumn had a medium risk (RQm and RQex < 1). The obtained results revealed not only elevated concentrations of diazinon in the studied rivers but most importantly the high risk posed by this OPP for the aquatic organisms and the wellbeing of the whole river ecosystem. The current study showed that development and implementation of appropriate standards and regulations toward diazinon in countries such as Iran are required to reduce the pollution levels and risks related to elevated concentrations of the studied pesticide.
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