The Case for Banning Atrazine

Atrazine is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the United States: Approximately 80 million pounds of it are used across the country each year. It's a common contaminant of ground, surface and drinking water. It’s so dangerous to both people and wildlife that it has been banned by the European Union.

Numerous studies have provided overwhelming evidence linking atrazine to significant health concerns including increased risk of prostate cancer and decreased sperm count in men, and a higher risk of breast cancer in women.

Atrazine is linked to declines of endangered amphibians and of many other endangered species throughout the country. It is an endocrine disruptor that directly affects the sexual development of amphibians by changing their hormone cycle. Exposure to atrazine at levels as low as 0.1 parts per billion has been shown to affect the development of sex characteristics in frogs.

OUR CAMPAIGN

The Center’s Pesticides Reduction Campaign aims to secure programmatic changes in the pesticide registration process and to stop toxic pesticides from contaminating fish and wildlife habitats. One of the main targets of our campaign has been atrazine because of its widespread and grave impacts on wildlife and people.

In 2005 we forced the EPA to address atrazine and other pesticides that have polluted Austin’s Barton Springs and harmed the endangered Barton Springs Salamander. The next year we achieved a legal victory that resulted in significant interim restrictions on use of 66 pesticides, including atrazine, throughout California that harmed California red-legged frogs. In 2009 the Center won another major victory that required the EPA to formally evaluate the harmful effects of 74 pesticides on 11 endangered and threatened species in the San Francisco Bay Area, and impose interim restrictions on use of these pesticides in and near endangered species habitats. We also notified EPA of the hazards of pesticides, including atrazine, on the polar bear. In 2010, Center litigation led the EPA to finally announce a nationwide ban on one of the most toxic endocrine disruptors: endosulfan. In 2011, along with Pesticide Action Network North America, we filed the most comprehensive legal action ever brought under the Endangered Species Act to protect imperiled species from pesticides.

In 2015, the EPA announced a plan to analyze the impacts of atrazine and glyphosate — the two most commonly used pesticides in the United States — on 1,500 endangered plants and animals in the United States under the terms of a settlement reached with the Center. This led to a 2016 preliminary risk assessment that showed that amount of the herbicide atrazine that’s released into the environment in the United States is likely harming most species of plants and animals. Also in 2016, under the terms of a historic settlement reached with the Center, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a plan to analyze the impacts of atrazine and glyphosate on 1,500 endangered U.S. plants and animals.

We’ve also worked to gain protection under state and federal endangered species laws for wildlife that is particularly threatened by atrazine. We filed a scientific petition to list 404 Southeast aquatic, riparian and wetland species as threatened or endangered in 2010. In 2012 we made the biggest-ever move to protect amphibians and reptiles in the United States, filing a mega-petition requesting Endangered Species Action protection for 53 amphibians and reptiles in 45 states. The Center has also sought protection for individual species harmed by atrazine, including Townsend’s big-eared bats and boreal toads.

California red-legged frog photo by Tab Tannery/Flickr