NRDC to Leavitt: Chesapeake Bay Protection Efforts Fall Short

EPA Allowing Toxic Weed-Killer Runoff in the Chesapeake Bay

WASHINGTON (January 27, 2004) -- When Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Mike Leavitt and Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich announce a limited new funding proposal for the Chesapeake Bay today, they likely will not talk specifically about pesticide contamination. But according to a lawsuit filed last August by NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council), EPA has failed to protect endangered sea turtles and other species in the Chesapeake Bay from the weed-killer atrazine. The agency has acknowledged that the weed-killer may harm endangered species in the bay and elsewhere, but is fighting the lawsuit with the support of nearly two dozen chemical industry and agribusiness trade groups.

"EPA's stonewalling on atrazine shows it is more interested in protecting the pesticide industry than protecting the bay," said Aaron Colangelo, an NRDC staff attorney. EPA's inaction on controlling atrazine is part of a bigger problem, he added. "The agency is doing too little to fix the problem of toxic pollution and pesticide runoff in the Chesapeake Bay, and must do more to address silt, pathogens and nutrients in the bay."

Atrazine was recently banned by the European Union, but in the United States it is the most widely used herbicide, according to EPA. From 60 million to 70 million pounds of atrazine are applied annually to fields, golf courses and lawns. For the past decade, nearly 800,000 pounds of atrazine has been applied every year in Maryland alone. The U.S. Geological Survey has detected atrazine throughout the Chesapeake Bay and in every major river and stream that feeds the bay.

EPA has found that widespread atrazine contamination in the Chesapeake Bay watershed may harm endangered fish, reptiles, amphibians and mussels. Sea turtles appear to be especially at risk. Atrazine may disrupt the hormonal system in sea turtles, which could result in reproductive dysfunction. A number of studies have shown that atrazine causes sexual defects in frogs, including feminization, hermaphroditism, and gonadal deformities. Atrazine runoff in the Chesapeake Bay also destroys sea turtles' habitat and food sources.