CHICAGO (October 7, 2009) - Less than six weeks after the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a far-reaching report on the hormone disrupting pesticide Atrazine, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it will take steps to re-evaluate the chemical. A widely used pesticide known to impact wildlife development and, potentially, human health, NRDC's report pointed out that Atrazine has contaminated watersheds and drinking water throughout much of the United States. Today's announcement of a year-long review by the EPA may be the first step towards revising the chemical’s registration and availability in the United States, according to NRDC experts.
“We don’t need gender-bending chemicals in our water,” said Mae Wu. “While Atrazine’s makers like to talk about the pesticide’s long-running history, we have learned a lot since it was introduced a half century ago. Studies point to significant concerns about this chemical’s impact on wildlife, babies, and developing children, reinforcing the fact that this chemical has no place in our drinking water. Today’s action should be the first in a series of necessary steps to fix this problem and clean-up our water.”
Atrazine, a chemical banned in the European Union, is the most commonly detected pesticide in U.S. waters. It is a known endocrine disruptor, which means that it affects human and animal hormones. It has been tied to poor sperm quality in humans and hermaphroditic amphibians.
In late August, a widely-publicized NRDC report revealed that all of the watersheds monitored by EPA and 90% of the drinking water sampled in monitored areas tested positive for Atrazine. Contamination was most severe in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, and Nebraska. An extensive U.S. Geological Survey study found that approximately 75 percent of stream water and about 40 percent of all groundwater samples from agricultural areas contained Atrazine, and according to a New York Times investigative piece, an estimated 33 million Americans have been exposed to Atrazine through their drinking water systems.
NRDC’s report, Poisoning the Well: How the EPA is Ignoring Atrazine Contamination in Surface and Drinking Water in the Central United States included detailed maps of affected areas and Google Earth applications.
Poisoning the Well called for increased monitoring for Atrazine contamination and for the product to be removed from the American marketplace. Today's action was a necessary first step that could eventually lead to these important outcomes.
Atrazine is currently regulated by the EPA. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), they have determined that an annual average of no more than 3 parts per billion (ppb) of Atrazine may be present in drinking water. One of the chief findings of the NRDC report was that this reliance on a "running annual average" allowed levels of the Atrazine in drinking water to peak at extremely high concentrations. This issue was one that was specifically noted in an EPA conference call explaining the announcement process held this morning.
The effects associated with Atrazine have been documented extensively. Reproductive effects have been seen in amphibians even at low levels of exposure. Concentrations as low as 0.1 ppb, for example, have been shown to alter the development of sex characteristics in male frogs, resulting in male frogs with female sex characteristics and the presence of eggs in male frog testes. Some scientists are concerned about exposure for children and pregnant women, as small doses could impact development of the brain and reproductive organs. Research has also raised concerns about Atrazine’s "synergistic" affects, showing potential for the chemical having a multiplier effect to increase toxic effects of other chemical co-contaminants in the environment.