(Beyond Pesticides, October 8, 2009) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will launch a comprehensive new evaluation of the pesticide atrazine to determine its effects on humans this fall. At the end of this process, the agency will decide whether to revise its current risk assessment of the pesticide and whether new restrictions are necessary to better protect public health.
This announcement follows recent scrutiny and findings that the current EPA regulation of atrazine in water is inadequate. In August this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published a report, Poisoning the Well which found that the commonly used herbicide atrazine can spike at extremely high levels which go undetected by regular monitoring. Concurrently, The New York Times published an investigative piece based on the NRDC findings and confirmed that the public is not informed when reports of these spikes of atrazine in drinking water occur.
One of the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the U.S., atrazine can currently legally be applied before and after planting to control broadleaf and grassy weeds. Its increased use to manicure home lawns and gardens has become a serious environmental concern as runoff has had severe health and environmental consequences.
Even at low levels that are considered “safe” by EPA standards, atrazine is known to harm fish, and has been associated with reproductive and developmental effects as well as endocrine disruption. Research by UC Berkeley professor, Tyrone Hayes, Ph.D., demonstrates that exposure to doses of atrazine as small as 0.1 parts per billion, turns tadpoles into hermaphrodites – creatures with both male and female sexual characteristics.
As the most commonly detected pesticide in rivers, streams and wells, an estimated 76.4 million pounds of atrazine is applied in the U.S. annually. It has a tendency to persist in soils and move with water, making it a common water contaminant. Research found that intersex frogs are more common in suburban areas than agricultural areas. Another study suggests it as a possible cause for male infertility.
According to the EPA, agency staff will evaluate the pesticide’s potential cancer and non-cancer effects on humans. Included in this new evaluation will be the most recent studies on atrazine and its potential association with birth defects, low birth weight, and premature births.
“One of Administrator Jackson’s top priorities is to improve the way EPA manages and assesses the risk of chemicals, including pesticides, and as part of that effort, we are taking a hard look at the decision made by the previous administration on atrazine,” said Steve Owens, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances. “Our examination of atrazine will be based on transparency and sound science, including independent scientific peer review, and will help determine whether a change in EPA’s regulatory position on this pesticide is appropriate.”
During the new evaluation, EPA will consider the potential for atrazine cancer and non-cancer effects, and will include data generated since 2003 from laboratory and population studies. To be certain that the best science possible is used in its atrazine human health risk assessment and ensure transparency, EPA will seek advice from the Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) established under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.
EPA will engage the SAP to evaluate the human health effects of atrazine over the coming year. Below is the timeline:
”¢ November 2009: EPA will present SAP its plan for the new atrazine evaluation.
”¢ February 2010: EPA will present and seek scientific peer review of its proposed plan for incorporating population studies into the atrazine risk assessment.
”¢ April 2010: EPA will present and seek peer review of its evaluation of atrazine non-cancer effects based on animal laboratory toxicology studies, selection of safety factors in the risk assessment, and the sampling design currently used to monitor drinking water in community water systems.
”¢ September 2010: EPA will present and seek peer review of its evaluation of atrazine cancer and non-cancer effects based on animal toxicology studies and epidemiology studies. This review is intended to include the most recent results from the National Cancer Institute’s Agricultural Health Study, anticipated for publication in 2010.
At the conclusion of this process, EPA will ask the SAP to review atrazine’s potential effects on amphibians and aquatic ecosystems. The SAP meetings will be open to the public.
In addition to the scientific review of the effects of atrazine, EPA plans to meet with interested groups to explore better ways to inform the public more quickly about results of atrazine drinking water monitoring.
For more information on the chemical atrazine, please see our fact sheet on our pesticide gateway. Beyond Pesticides is working to halt the senseless use and exposure to lawn pesticides and herbicides, such as atrazine, that are so pervasively used in the U.S. Avoid using these pesticides by following organic and least-toxic management strategies for your lawn and gardens, such as composting, rain gardens, habitat protection, and natural predators. For more ideas, look at our Lawns and Landscape Page, Invasive Weed Management Page, or contact us at [email protected].
TAKE ACTION! (LOCAL): If you’re in the area, attend the informational meeting held on November 3, 2009 from 9am to 12pm at the EPA Conference Center, Lobby Level, One Potomac Yard (South Bld.), 2777 S. Crystal Dr., Arlington, VA 22202.
TAKE ACTIOION! (NATIONAL): Tell the EPA to revise the current risk assessment of atrazine and to impose greater restrictions. Comments can be submitted to the EPA in writing by October 23 2009, or orally by October 27 2009. Submit your comments identified by docket ID number EPA-HQ-OPP-2009-0759 to either: online at Federal eRulemaking Portal; by mail to Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) Regulatory Public Docket (7502P), Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW., Washington, DC 20460-011; or delivered to OPP Regulatory Public Docket (7502P), Environmental Protection Agency, Rm. S-4400, One Potomac Yard (South Bld.), 2777 S. Crystal Dr., Arlington, VA. Special arrangements should be made for deliveries of boxed information. The Docket Facility telephone number is 703-305-5805.
Source: EPA Press Release