A common pesticide that has been linked to mutilation in wildlife and could have damaging effects on human health is in drinking water in higher levels than those deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a new report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The report pulled together data from EPA testing programs and found that there have been extremely high spikes of atrazine contamination in watersheds and drinking water throughout the Midwest and southern United States. Atrazine is an herbicide used around corn and sorghum. It is manufactured by Basel, Switzerland-based Syngenta. Company officials were not immediately available for comment.
“Atrazine is an endocrine disruptor that could wreak havoc on brain and reproductive development,” said NRDC Spokesman Josh Mogerman. “Based on animal research, there are some pretty horrifying things coming up in terms of extra limbs, gender switches and eggs in frog testes. And the chemical has a synergetic effect, so when combined with other herbicides or pesticides, it can be more harmful.”
The NRDC is encouraging people who live in impacted areas to use water filters at home. (Click here for more information and to review the report and a map of affected areas.) The organization also is calling on the EPA to consider removing the product from the marketplace. It’s currently banned by the European Union.
The EPA sets a standard of 3 parts per billion for atrazine in drinking water. The agency tests four times per year. If the average is less than 3 ppb, the water is deemed safe for human consumption.
But NRDC said the EPA’s own data shows there are many places that water is being monitored where there are significant peaks of the chemical’s presence. The spikes can be significantly higher than the EPA standard. In Versailles, Ind., for example, the report shows increases of 30.48 ppb. NRDC found some places as high as 100 ppb. Spring and summer rainstorms can account for the hikes.
While it doesn’t necessarily mean the EPA is out of compliance, Mogerman said, such spikes should raise concerns, especially for pregnant women and developing children.
“There are points of human development where a week is an important amount of time, and if you happen to drink this water, there are concerns that this could impact development,” Mogerman said.
“What was most shocking was just how pervasive this stuff is in the environment,” he said. “Everywhere (NRDC) looked, they found it. It can be found in places where atrazine is not even being used because it can be carried by streams and rivers.”
In response to the report, the EPA released this comment by Steve Owens, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances: “Under this administration, EPA is committed to ensuring the health and safety of all Americans. The Obama EPA will take a hard look at atrazine and other substances. This thorough review will rely on transparency and sound science. We will continue to closely track new scientific developments and will determine whether a change in our regulatory position is appropriate.”