SAN FRANCISCO - August 27 - New research on birth defects at extremely low concentrations and documentation of widespread ground- and drinking-water contamination has strengthened the case for banning the toxic compound atrazine, the most commonly used herbicide in the United States. Atrazine is a widely used weed killer that chemically castrates male frogs at extremely low concentrations and is linked to significant human and wildlife health concerns, including endocrine disruption, birth defects, fertility problems, and certain cancers.
"It's time to ban atrazine to protect our drinking water and our most imperiled wildlife," said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. "There is no reason to continue use of this poisonous contaminant given the building evidence of harm to humans and endangered species."
Atrazine is a potent chemical that is the most common contaminant of ground-, surface, and drinking water nationwide. Recent research published in peer-reviewed journals suggests that small amounts of atrazine in drinking water can be harmful at much lower concentrations than federal standards, and link the pesticide to birth defects, low birth weights, premature births, and menstrual problems. Previous research has provided evidence linking atrazine to prostate cancer and decreased sperm count in men, and higher risk of breast cancer in women.
Articles this week in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Huffington Post discuss how the Environmental Protection Agency is ignoring unsafe atrazine contamination levels in surface and drinking water in the Midwest and South. Agency documents show that numerous watersheds and drinking-water systems are contaminated with atrazine, which was banned by the European Union and in Switzerland, the home country of its parent company Syngenta, because of dangers to both people and wildlife.
Atrazine is linked to declines of endangered amphibians and fish in California such as the California red-legged frog, California tiger salamander, Delta smelt, coho and chinook salmon, and steelhead trout. Atrazine also harms many other endangered species throughout the country, including sea turtles in Chesapeake Bay, Barton Springs salamanders in Texas, endangered mussels in Alabama, shortnose sturgeon in Midwest waters, the Wyoming toad, and the Illinois cave amphipod.
Numerous studies have definitively linked pesticides and herbicides with significant developmental, neurological, and reproductive damage to amphibians. Pesticide contamination can cause deformities, abnormal immune system functions, diseases, injury, and death. Studies by Dr. Tyrone Hayes at the University of California show that atrazine is an endocrine disruptor that interferes with reproduction and "assaults male sexual development." Dr. Hayes demonstrated that atrazine chemically castrates and feminizes male frogs at concentrations 30 times lower than levels allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Although exposure levels as low as 0.1 parts per billion (ppb) result in frog hermaphrodites, the agency's atrazine criterion for the "protection of aquatic life" is 12 ppb.
Conservationists sued the Environmental Protection Agency in 2003 for failing to review the impacts of atrazine on several endangered species. The registration for atrazine was revised later that year, revealing the agency's obeisance to the agrochemical industries it was intended to regulate. Despite numerous studies and overwhelming evidence linking atrazine to significant human and wildlife health concerns, the agency imposed no new restrictions on its use.
The Center for Biological Diversity has mounted a Pesticides Reduction Campaign to hold the Environmental Protection Agency accountable for pesticides it registers for use and to cancel or restrict use of harmful pesticides within endangered species' habitats. Our 2004 report, Silent Spring Revisited: Pesticide Use and Endangered Species, details the decades-long failure of the agency to regulate pesticides harmful to endangered species. In 2006 the Center published Poisoning Our Imperiled Wildlife: San Francisco Bay Area Endangered Species at Risk from Pesticides, a report analyzing the agency's dismal record in protecting Bay Area endangered species and the agency's ongoing refusal to reform pesticide registration and use in accordance with scientific findings.
We and our allies have filed numerous lawsuits to force assessment of pesticide impacts on endangered species and prohibiting use of such chemicals within endangered species habitats until formal consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been completed. In 2005, our lawsuit forced the Environmental Protection Agency to assess impacts of atrazine and five additional pesticides on the Barton Springs salamander in Texas. In 2006, we reached a settlement agreement that prohibits the use of 66 toxic pesticides in and near core California red-legged frog habitats. In 2009 we reached a proposed agreement restricting the use of 74 pesticides and evaluation of their impacts on 11 endangered species in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Although required by court order in 2003 to further assess atrazine, the Environmental Protection Agency entered into a private deal whereby the atrazine manufacturer Syngenta was allowed to conduct contaminant monitoring, assessing a mere 3 percent of the watersheds identified as "at risk" of atrazine contamination. A recent report by conservationists analyzing agency monitoring data reveals that the agency has been ignoring the atrazine contamination problem, and that the monitoring is misleading and its regulation insufficient. The monitoring programs were not designed to find the biggest problems, the screening levels are too permissive, and the monitoring ignores more than 1,000 vulnerable watersheds.
Resources on Atrazine:
Atrazinelovers - Dr. Tyrone Hayes' web site informing the public about the dangers of atrazine
Harper's Magazine, August 2006 - US: It's Not Easy Being Green: Are Weed-Killers Turning Frogs into Hermaphrodites?
Innovations Report, February 2006 - Pesticide Combinations Imperil Frogs
Sierra Magazine, 2004 - A Frog Biologist Battles an Agrichemical Giantfrom commondreams.org and here on WoWonder not so new research.
Water Utilities Lack Proper Filters for Weed-Killer
Results from a federal drinking water monitoring program show that many public water companies are ineffective at removing a widely used weed-killer from their water supplies.
As the Huffington Post Investigative Fund reported earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to notify the public about data showing that the herbicide atrazine has been found at levels above the federal safety limit in drinking water in at least four states. Atrazine has been studied for its potential link to breast cancer, prostate cancer, and birth defects, and the EPA considers it to be a potential endocrine disruptor. It is banned in the European Union.
But the EPA’s data also reveals that many public water filtration systems are not removing the herbicide. In many places, atrazine levels in untreated water sources such as rivers directly match the levels that come out of the tap.
A carbon filter with granular activated carbon — in other words, a giant Brita-like filter — should absorb all or most of the atrazine. But the EPA’s atrazine monitoring data shows that many water utilities in the Corn Belt do not use carbon filtration. Many use rapid sand filters instead. They are cheaper and last longer, but are unable to remove organic compounds such as PCBs, phthalates, pharmaceuticals, and pesticides such as atrazine.
“Carbon filters might have to be replaced every couple of years whereas sand filters could last 20 to 30 years,” said Alan Roberson, director of security and regulatory affairs at the American Water Works Association, a non-profit organization representing water utilities.
To recover the cost of filtering atrazine, water companies in six states are preparing a lawsuit against the makers of atrazine, the Swiss company Syngenta.
When you compare the raw and finished water of an effective carbon filtration system, you see something like the chart below, which shows weekly levels of atrazine in river water and drinking water as measured last year in Bowling Green, Ohio.
Bowling Green added carbon filters to the water system in 2000. “We installed the filters to take care of taste and odor problems, but it [also] gets the atrazine out of there,” said Chad Johnson, assistant superintendent at the water utility. “These filters are expensive, though. Our new building cost about five million dollars.”
Every year, the utility replaces six of the 12 filter vessels at a cost of $126,000, Johnson said. He said the water plant had received $5 million in stimulus funds, which will be used to partially fund an $11 million project to install new membranes, which will remove nitrates and other chemicals from the water.
Atchison, Kan., is among water systems that do not have adequate filters in place. The chart shows weekly levels of atrazine in river water and drinking water as measured last year.
“I’ll be darned,” said Michael Matthews, the utilities director in Atchison, Kan., upon hearing that atrazine was barely being filtered from his drinking water. “That’s bad.”
Water plant managers said the economic downturn has made it even harder to convert to more effective filters. “Right now, we can’t afford anything,” said Lloyd Littrell of the Beloit, Kansas water plant, where rapid sand filters are used.
“It’s impossible to get atrazine out of the water with these filters. There’s no way to remove it,” he said. “But people need this water. We can’t just shut our doors and tell people to drink from the river.”
Stan Schafer of the Baxter Springs plant, where sand filters are used, said it was difficult to get funding for water cleanup even prior to the recession. “Shoot, I’d like another filter,” he said. “But they’re expensive. We did a $2.5 million update about three years ago and that system is falling apart.”
A civil engineering professor at Virginia Tech University, Marc Edwards, said that the cost of granular activated carbon treatment could double the total cost of drinking water treatment in some rural and poor communities.
“We are used to paying very little for tap water,” Edwards said. “It is hard for some rural communities to justify the higher costs of advanced treatment.”
“Most water systems don’t have the resources to buy a new filter,” said Kirk Leifheit, Assistant Chief of the Drinking Water Program at the Ohio EPA. “They are reporting to us needs in the billions.”
The EPA only monitors the river water and drinking water in about 150 water systems, so it is unknown whether other communities might be experiencing problems filtering atrazine. Washington, D.C., and Maryland, for example, are not part of that program.
However, atrazine is heavily used in the Maryland area, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey. The Washington Aqueduct, which treats water from the Potomac River for about 1 million in the DC area, does not filter for atrazine.
Water systems in 57 cities are preparing a lawsuit against the atrazine manufacturer, the Swiss company Syngenta, to recover the cost of filtering the chemical out of drinking water. Utilities in Illinois, Ohio, Kansas, Indiana, Missouri, and Iowa are preparing to file suits in state courts. A hearing in Illinois is scheduled for Monday.
“Many of those water providers have incurred an enormous amount of expenses at a time when their tax base is shrinking,”said Stephen Tillery of the Korein Tillery law firm in St. Louis, who represents the water systems. “They’re cash strapped.”
Jere White, executive director of the Kansas City Corn Growers Association and the Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association, has been fighting atrazine regulation at both a local and national level since 1995. He has been vocal about opposing the class action lawsuit against Syngenta.
“The difference between them [the lawyers] and an ambulance chaser is the fact that with an ambulance chaser, you at least assume that there’s an ambulance and an injury,” White said in a phone interview.
White is also chairman of the Triazine Network which has been fighting atrazine regulation since 1995. The Network and the Corn Growers, according to White, receive regular funding from Syngenta — for travel, speaking engagements (including EPA hearings), and education, though he pointed out that it has never been earmarked specifically for “advocacy.” The Network, according to its website, “strives to keep the beneficial triazine herbicides available in the United States.”
Growth of Ocean ‘Garbage Patch’ Alarms Experts"Seeing that influence just floating out here in the middle of nowhere makes our power painfully obvious, and the consequences of the industrial age plain," she wrote. "It's not a pretty sight."
Now you have to read the book, the documentary split away from original intentions, know that feeling of flight. The Shock Doctrine.