3 February 2003
Atrazine Use Curbed, But Not Halted
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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
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
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).
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.
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.
the issue is reviewed by a panel of independent scientists, the
EPA plans to issue an amended IRED by October 31, 2003.
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."
information on EPA's review of atrazine is available at: http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/reregistration/atrazine/