WASHINGTON (April 15, 2002) -- A groundbreaking study to be released tomorrow shows that atrazine, the nation's most widely used pesticide, causes serious sexual abnormalities in male frogs at levels commonly found in rivers, streams and even rain, and at 30 times below the level the Environmental Protection Agency allows in drinking water. This research is further proof that this pesticide is a major threat to public health and the environment, say experts at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The study by professor Tyrone Hayes at the University of California, Berkeley, will be published in tomorrow's edition of the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Hayes found that 16 percent of the genetically male frogs he studied developed sexual abnormalities, including having both testicles and ovaries, at exposure levels of 0.1 parts per billion (ppb). Many of these animals also had non-working testicles containing eggs in addition to sperm. EPA's tap water standard for atrazine is 3 ppb -- 30 times higher than the level at which these dramatic sexual side effects occurred. At higher levels, the frogs developed additional health problems.
"This rigorous scientific study reinforces what we and other scientists have been saying for years: atrazine is a dangerous pesticide," said Dr. Jennifer Sass, an NRDC senior scientist. "It's no surprise that it's been banned by many European countries."
Recent findings by the U.S. Geological Survey and others document that atrazine is commonly found in U.S. waters, fog and rainwater. For example, atrazine is found throughout most of the Mississippi River basin. Millions of Americans drink tap water laced with atrazine, which is at peak levels in the spring, when corn farmers apply tens of millions of pounds of the chemical on their fields.
"The fact that doses of atrazine -- at a fraction of the federal tap water standard -- disrupted frog reproductive organ development has frightening implications for humans, especially pre-pubescent children," Dr. Sass added.
Fortunately farmers do not have to use atrazine. "The good news is that there are readily available, affordable, and safer alternatives," said Jon Devine, an NRDC senior attorney. "Farmers have found that modern cultivation practices allow them to slash the amount of pesticides they apply to their fields -- or dispense with them altogether -- without cutting production." For example, he said, Iowa farmers discovered they can plant their corn crops in elevated ridges and remove weeds mechanically, increasing their profitability and eliminating the need for atrazine.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.