Two groups of chemicals are currently licensed for use in sheep dip products in the UK. These are organophosphate (OP) insecticides and synthetic pyrethroid (SP) insecticides. SPs are deemed to be less toxic to human health than OPs, although they are approximately 100 times more toxic to some elements of the aquatic environment. Three insecticides were selected for experimental investigation: diazinon, propetamphos (OPs) and cis-permethrin (SP), representative of the active ingredients used in sheep dip formulations, with additional uses in insect control in crops, and for domestic control of flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches, lice, ticks and spiders. The UK Government has recently reviewed agricultural practices relating to the disposal of used sheep dip, because the constituent insecticides are frequently detected in UK watercourses and the presence of these compounds is a severe hazard to the aquatic environment. Standard batch sorption experiments were carried out to investigate insecticide partitioning from water to soil, and the relationship between sorption and soil organic carbon content is discussed. Sorption isotherms and K(d) values showed that cis-permethrin adsorption was fastest on all five soils investigated, exhibiting the greatest total partitioning to the soil phase (83.8-94.8%) and high resistance to desorption. In comparison, the OP insecticides exhibited moderately strong soil adsorption as evidenced by their K(d) coefficients (diazinon K(d) 12-35 and propetamphos K(d) 9-60), with low sorption reversibility (< 15%). Calculation of a hydrological retardation factor in a scenario representative of a typical UK environment suggested that SP insecticides such as cis-permethrin will not migrate in the soil profile due to their virtual immobility and strong soil retention, and thus waste sheep dip disposal to agricultural land should not pose a risk to aquatic life if applied with appropriate controls.