Recent EPA Report Concludes Common Pesticide is Harming U.S. Animal and Plant Populations

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Atrazine, the second most commonly used herbicide in the United States, is likely having adverse effects on the environment and animal species, according to 500-page risk assessment released by the Environmental Protection Agency.

This is not the first time this dangerous pesticide has been assessed; pesticides approved for use in the U.S. must be evaluated by the EPA at least once every 15 years. The EPA’s last assessment of atrazine took place back in 2003.

Around 70 million pounds of atrazine is used in the United States each year despite the fact that the harmful pesticide has already been linked to a number of health and environmental concerns, including birth defects, cancer in humans, and the contamination of ground, surface and drinking-water supplies.

In fact, after its most recent assessment, the EPA has also concluded that atrazine poses a potentially serious ongoing risk to birds, mammals, fish, frogs as well as many plants it was not designed to kill.

“Anyone who cares about wildlife, people and the environment should be deeply troubled by this finding,” said Nathan Donley, a scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “When the government’s own scientists say there’s enough atrazine in streams and rivers right now to kill frogs and other imperiled wildlife, we should be worried. How many animals have to die before we do what Europe did 12 years ago and ban atrazine?

Atrazine, which is generally sprayed on corn and other crops, often finds its way into the country’s surface and groundwater. In the environment, levels of atrazine have been found to exceed what the agency considers “levels of concern for chronic risk” by as much as 22, 198, and 62 times for birds, mammals, and fish, respectively, according to the EPA’s report.

As a result, a large number of plant and animal species are being exposed to dangerous levels of the pesticide. In fact, according to controversial research done by Tyrone Hayes, when male frogs are exposed to atrazine, they effectively become female. Developmental, hormonal, and reproductive systems of species have also been known to be affected by the pesticide.
To make matters worse, the agency has also acknowledged that these effects can occur at levels that are below what the EPA has set as drinking water safety limits for atrazine.

“When the amount of atrazine allowed in our drinking water is high enough to turn a male tadpole into a female frog, then our regulatory system has failed us,” said Donley. “We’ve reached a point with atrazine where more scientific analysis is just unnecessary — atrazine needs to be banned now.”

In addition, land-based plant biodiversity is likely reduced by atrazine run-off and spray drift when used on nearby crops. However, due to a lack of research, it is uncertain how the pesticide is affecting the population of bees and other pollinators.

Since the reports release, environmental advocates have argued that the evidence shown in the EPA’s report strongly indicates that the pesticide needs to be banned in the United States. “The only path forward is an all out ban. It’s just too toxic,” Donley said.

In response to the report, atrazine manufacturer Syngenta has called the EPA’s report “scientifically unjustified,” and have argued that it is based on studies “previously recognized as flawed.” Unsurprisingly, Syngenta them went on to claim that Aatrazine is essential to maintaining U.S. corn farmers’ profitability, and without it both farmers and the industry would severely suffer.

The EPA draft report will be open for public comment for 60 days. After this period, the EPA will review the comments and revise report before presenting them for review by the agency’s Scientific Advisory Panel some time next year.

Image: Walter Baxter [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


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