Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers


Environmental News Service
3 February 2003

U.S. Atrazine Use Curbed, But Not Halted

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, February 3, 2003 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken steps to reduce, but not eliminate, pollution from the herbicide atrazine.

In its latest assessment of atrazine, the EPA concluded that the herbicide may continue to be used, provided that new precautions and measures are implemented to reduce risks to drinking water. Atrazine is one of the most common herbicides used in the U.S., applied to a variety of crops and also used for nonagricultural purposes.

The agency has concluded that risks associated with exposures from food are not of concern, and says exposure from residential uses and exposure to workers are low and have been addressed by changes in product use conditions.
Herbicides sprayed on crops can run off into nearby waterways. (Photo by Doug Wilson, courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture)
"After the most extensive analysis ever conducted on atrazine, EPA has designed a protective, early alert system to implement rigorous monitoring and fine tuned safeguards to protect drinking water in the communities where atrazine is used," said Stephen Johnson, the EPA's assistant administrator for the office of prevention, pesticides, and toxic substances. "For the most vulnerable watersheds, if the testing shows higher levels of atrazine than we consider acceptable, use of the product will be prohibited in that area."

Critics of the EPA's announcement note that the agency has concluded that that drinking water that is 12 times more contaminated with the herbicide than allowed by law does not pose a health problem. Although more than 75 million pounds of atrazine are applied each year, and more than one million Americans drink water from systems that have exceeded EPA's drinking water standard, the agency will allow widespread use of atrazine to continue.

The agency also plans to allow the manufacturer of atrazine, Syngenta, to monitor contamination and implement drinking water limits. If the level of atrazine in drinking water exceeds a specific amount, the EPA has given Syngenta the responsibility to conduct monitoring and develop a voluntary plan to lower the contamination level.

"We're flabbergasted," said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "We've reviewed the science on atrazine, and it is clear that it is dangerous at levels the EPA says are harmless. And we're shocked that EPA would abdicate its responsibility to protect the public and allow the manufacturer to write the rules."

"The EPA also concluded that atrazine probably does not cause cancer in humans, despite the fact that numerous studies show a link between atrazine and cancer in both humans and animals," Sass added. "Even Syngenta acknowledges that workers at its atrazine plant have elevated levels of prostate cancer. The EPA is ignoring this data."

The agriculture industry argues that without herbicides like atrazine, crops can be choked by weeds. The field on the left has been treated with an herbicide; the field on the right is untreated. (Photo by Doug Buhler, courtesy Agricultural Research Service)
The program announced by the EPA involves targeted monitoring of raw water entering certain community water systems in areas of atrazine use. Syngenta AG, a Swiss company that is the largest manufacturer of atrazine in the U.S. will be required to conduct test raw water in vulnerable watersheds every week during high use periods for the herbicide.

When atrazine is detected in water above EPA safety standards, the use will be prohibited - perhaps permanently - in that specific watershed area. For all other areas where atrazine might be used, monitoring of finished drinking water for atrazine is already required under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

The measures are detailed in the EPA's "Interim Reregistration Eligibility Decision" (IRED), the result of several years of concentrated analysis of the "best and most recently available scientific studies," the agency said.

The EPA said it is continuing to evaluate the potential effects of atrazine on amphibians. Recent studies have suggested that the herbicide may be linked to sexual deformities in frogs, toads and other amphibians.

After the issue is reviewed by a panel of independent scientists, the EPA plans to issue an amended IRED by October 31, 2003.

"Under a consent decree with NRDC, EPA must present this assessment to its scientific advisory panel for review this spring," noted NRDC's Sass. "The panel must assess the scientific data on the merits, and EPA must take action to protect Americans from exposure to this harmful chemical. This chemical is banned in several European countries. It should be banned here."

More information on EPA's review of atrazine is available at: http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/reregistration/atrazine/





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