(Beyond Pesticides, April 27, 2010) On April 22, 2010, Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) introduced H.R.5124, legislation to prohibit the use, production, sale, importation, or exportation of any pesticide containing atrazine. The bill’s introduction coincides with an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) meeting this week to reevaluate the human health effects of the popular endocrine disrupting herbicide. Environmentalists point to the 2003-2006 reregistration of atrazine as a prime example of the broken system of pesticide regulation in the U.S. and call on EPA to reassess atrazine fairly and for consumers to support an end to all unnecessary pesticide use by supporting organic whenever possible.
“On this 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, I can think of no better tribute to our planet and our people than protecting it from known harmful chemicals,” Rep. Ellison said. “No one should ever have to worry if the water they drink is making them sick or preventing fertility.” Rep. Ellison’s bill cites widespread environmental contamination, health and environmental effects, as well as bans in other countries, as justification for the ban.
The current SAP meeting follows EPA’s October 2009 announcement that it would begin a new evaluation of atrazine to determine its effects on humans, following scrutiny and findings that the current EPA regulation of atrazine in water is inadequate. Records brought to public attention by a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) lawsuit shows that EPA had more than 50 closed door meetings with Syngenta, atrazine’s manufacturer, during its 2003 reregistration. At the end of the new evaluation 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.
Atrazine has been linked to a myriad of health problems in humans including disruption of hormone activity, low sperm quality, low birth weight, impaired immune system function and cancer. A 2009 study by Paul Winchester, PhD, who spoke at Beyond Pesticides’ 28th National Pesticide Forum in Cleveland, OH, linked birth defects to time of conception, with the great impact on children conceived when concentrations of atrazine and other pesticides were the highest in the local drinking water.
Atrazine is used to control broad leaf weeds and annual grasses in crops, golf courses and residential lawns. It is used extensively for broad leaf weed control in corn. In the U.S. alone, 60-80 million pounds are used per year. The herbicide is a common contaminant of municipal drinking water because it does not cling to soil particles and washes easily with the rain into surface and ground water. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found atrazine in approximately 75 percent of stream waters and 40 percent of all groundwater samples from agricultural areas tested.
Atrazine is also a major threat to wildlife. It harms the immune, hormone, and reproductive systems of aquatic animals. Studies show fish and amphibians exposed to atrazine can exhibit hermaphrodism. Male frogs exposed to atrazine concentrations within federal standards can become so completely female that they can mate and lay viable eggs.
In 1991, Germany and Italy banned the use of atrazine. The European Union banned atrazine in 2004, after repeated testing found the herbicide in drinking water supplies, and health officials were unable to find sufficient evidence the chemical is safe. In much of Europe the burden of proof falls on the pesticide manufacturer to prove it is safe, unlike in the U.S. where EPA has assumed the burden of proving a pesticide does not meet acceptable risk standards before taking regulatory action.
Take Action: Contact your Member of Congress and let them know what you think about H.R.5124. For more information on atrazine, see the Pesticide Gateway. For more information on organics food and land management, see Beyond Pesticides’ organic food and lawns and landscapes program pages.