Cancer causing herbicide “Atrazine” contaminating Midwest drinking water

September 16, 2007

Data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) between 2003 and 2006 has found atrazine to exist in Midwest drinking water supplies at high levels. The federal monitoring data, obtained by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), shows increased atrazine levels in 94 of 136 water systems tested in Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Nebraska.

Atrazine, which has been linked to cancer in numerous studies, is a common agricultural herbicide that could see increased use as demand for corn rises due to ethanol production. In 2003, EPA called it “the most heavily used herbicide in the United States.”

According to NRDC’s report, EPA’s study found that nearly all 40 monitored watersheds showed levels of atrazine at levels that harm aquatic animals and habitat. Atrazine’s effect on amphibians has been well documented, and similarly serious health effects have been found in larger mammals. Chronically contaminated drinking water puts humans at the risk of exposure to similar long-term health effects.

In agricultural areas of the midwest, the risk is especially high. “Kentucky’s waterways are particularly vulnerable to contamination,” said a Western Kentucky University report. “Networks of sinkholes and underground streams allow water and contaminants to flow directly into water supplies without the filtration that results from slow seepage through soil and rocks.”

Work to reduce atrazine contamination in water needs to begin in earnest, but NRDC was pessimistic of federal encouragement of any reduction. “Atrazine contamination in the Midwest is pervasive, hazardous, and unnecessary,” said Jonathan Kaplan, senior policy specialist with NRDC. “Congress should use the Farm Bill to provide farmers with the tools and incentives they need to maximize pest control alternatives. Pending Farm Bill legislation actually protects the most hazardous pesticides.” The report continues to say, “NRDC research shows that new requirements for farm conservation programs introduced in the up-coming Farm Bill would fail to promote safer alternatives to atrazine. Legislation to reauthorize the Farm Bill, pending in Congress, would prohibit the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from using these programs to encourage alternatives to harmful pesticides like atrazine.” In addition, only three percent of the $800 million paid to farmers in 2005 was earmarked for pest-control projects, and the percentage was lower in the states most affected by atrazine contamination.

-from Beyond Pesticides/September 14, 2007

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