EPA Decides to Take a New Look at Atrazine

Frog with limb deformity

Good news: today the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it will initiate a review of the health and environmental effects of atrazine, one of the most widely used pesticides in the United States. 

The review will take about a year and will begin with a comprehensive look at the emerging science about atrazine’s potential human health effects.  As an “endocrine disruptor” (meaning that it’s capable of disrupting normal hormonal functions) a host of studies have potentially linked atrazine to a wide variety of health effects from various types of cancer to poor sperm quality in humans.  Atrazine can also be devastating to aquatic ecosystems.  At extremely small doses, atrazine has been shown to turn frogs into hermaphrodites.  It has been linked to sever organ and limb deformities and life-threatening behavioral changes in amphibian species, and it can disrupt fish behavior and the productivity of aquatic plant life.

EPA’s announcement comes just six weeks after NRDC released its report, Poisoning the Well, which brings together EPA data on atrazine contamination in surface waters throughout the Midwest and in drinking water.  We show that the standards applied under the Safe Drinking Water Act do little to protect the public against alarmingly high spikes of atrazine in their drinking water and that the surface waters of the Midwest are similarly subject to very high levels of contamination.

NRDC will, of course, be fully engaged in the EPA’ review.  It’s high time that the United States seriously consider doing what Europe did years ago: ban the stuff.  In the meantime, the Obama Administration (and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson) deserves a lot of credit for having the courage to take this important first step.