Legal Settlement Requires EPA to Assess Atrazine Harm to 21 Endangered Species across the Country

WASHINGTON (February 24, 2006) -- A legal settlement reached today will require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assess whether atrazine, a common herbicide that has seeped into rivers and streams across the country, is threatening the survival of Chesapeake Bay's endangered sea turtles, endangered Texas salamanders, and 16 other at-risk aquatic species.

Today's settlement of a 2003 lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) against the EPA ends years of official delay in evaluating risks posed by the chemical. The agency also will ensure public access to industry data about atrazine contamination in specific waterways.

"Rivers and streams across the country are contaminated with atrazine," said Aaron Colangelo, an NRDC staff attorney. "This agreement is a critical step toward protecting endangered wildlife."

NRDC argued in its 2003 lawsuit that the EPA unlawfully approved the widespread use of the weed-killer even though it acknowledged that it might harm endangered species. A number of studies have shown that atrazine causes sexual and reproductive deformities in wildlife.

Atrazine especially threatens endangered loggerhead, leatherback, green, and Kemp's ridley turtles in the Chesapeake Bay; the Barton Springs salamander in Austin, Texas; freshwater mussels in Alabama; and fish throughout the Midwest, according to NRDC.

The chemical is one of the most widely used weed-killers in the United States. Sixty to 70 million pounds of atrazine are sprayed annually, mainly on corn, sugarcane and other crops. It runs off farmland and lawns, winding up in waterways.

EPA acknowledges there is widespread atrazine contamination in U.S. waterways, and the chemical is even present in rainfall and fog in the Midwest.

Atrazine also contaminates drinking water. More than 1 million Americans drink from water supplies that are contaminated with atrazine at levels higher than EPA's drinking water standard. (For more information about atrazine in drinking water, see a January 2004 NRDC backgrounder.)

Two years ago, the European Union banned the chemical because of its risks.

The EPA published the settlement agreement, which was negotiated among EPA, NRDC, farm organizations, and atrazine's main manufacturer, Syngenta, in today's Federal Register for public comment. The agency and NRDC expect to file a final agreement in a few weeks with the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Maryland.

Below is a list of the 21 endangered species covered by the settlement and EPA's deadlines for making an assessment of the threat atrazine poses to them:

August 2006: loggerhead turtle, leatherback turtle, green turtle, Kemp's ridley turtle, shortnose sturgeon, dwarf wedge mussel, Barton Springs salamander, Alabama sturgeon

February 2007: pink mucket pearly mussel, shiny pigtoe pearly mussel, fine-rayed pigtoe mussel, rough pigtoe mussel, heavy pigtoe mussel, ovate clubshell mussel, southern clubshell mussel, stirrup shell mussel

August 2007: pallid sturgeon, Topeka shiner, fat pocketbook pearly mussel, purple cat's paw pearly mussel, northern riffleshell