Smarter Living: Chemical Index
Atrazine is an herbicide widely used in large-scale agriculture, primarily on corn. It also is a potent hormone-disruptor; laboratory studies have shown that exposure at very low doses causes reproductive harm.
In laboratory studies, even low doses, atrazine impairs the reproductive systems of amphibians and has been shown at higher doses to impair mammalian hormone systems. It has been linked to cancer in laboratory animals. In humans there are some data suggesting that atrazine exposure is associated withlow sperm counts in men, hormone disruptions in women, and developmental abnormalities from fetal and infant exposures. Male frogs exposed to minute doses of atrazine develop female sex characteristics, including hermaphroditism and the presence of eggs in the testes. Atrazine is also suspected of acting in combination with other pesticides to increase their toxic effects.
Atrazine has been banned in the European Union but is still widely used in the United States.
Where It Is Found
Atrazine has been found in surface and drinking water supplies throughout the United States. It is in fact the most commonly detected pesticide in U.S. waters. A 2009 NRDC report determined that the 10 watersheds with the highest levels of atrazine contamination were in Indiana, Missouri and Nebraska.
Contact your water utily to find out about atrazine levels in your water.
If your water source has high levels of atrazine, you can filter it out using activated charcoal, which removes certain chemicals, heavy metals and some bacteria. Always be sure to select filters certified by the National Sanitation Foundation. NRDC's water filter recommendations can be found at Select the Right Filter.
If you household relies on well water, have it tested annually.
Tap water should be safe for everyone to drink. The EPA sets a limit on atrazine in drinking water, but it's measured as a yearly average and doesn't account for big spikes that are typical of the pollution that runs off of industrial farms after a heavy rain. It is those spikes that cause the most damage.
NRDC has petitioned the EPA to ban atrazine and is pushing for more effective methods of atrazine monitoring that will help keep our drinking water safe. We are also working with farmers to adopt techniques that will minimize the use of atrazine and other hazardous pesticides to reduce contamination of our waterways.
Gilliom RJ, et al. 2006. The Quality of Our Nation's Waters: Pesticides in the Nation's Streams and Ground Water, 1992–2001. U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1291
Hayes TB, et al. 2006. Pesticide mixtures, endocrine disruption, and amphibian declines: Are we underestimating the impact? Environ Health Perspect (Apr) 114(S-1): 40–50. doi:10.1289/ehp.8051.
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). 1999. Monographs of the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans. IARC Monograph 73:59–113.
Kniewald J, et al. 2000. Disorders of male rat reproductive tract under the influence of atrazine. J Appl Toxicol 20:61– 8. Rohr JR, et al. 2008. Agrochemicals increase trematode infections in a declining amphibian species. Nature (Oct 30) (455)7217: 1235–9.
Sass J. Atrazine associated with human health harms – EPA says so. Switchboard blog, September 15, 2010.
Sass JB and Colangelo A. 2006. European union bans atrazine, while the United States negotiates continued use. Int J Occup Environ Health (Jul–Sep) 12(3): 260–267
last revised 12/27/2011