The Case for Banning Atrazine
Atrazine is the most commonly used herbicide in the United States: Approximately 60 million to 80 million pounds of it are used across the country each year. It is also the most 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 human and wildlife health concerns. The chemical has been linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer and decreased sperm count in men, as well as 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.
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. (These frogs had declined by more than 90 percent and disappeared from 70 percent of their former range — largely due to pesticides.) 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 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.
The Center is taking additional action to get these poisons out of our waterways and ecosystems. In January 2010 we petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to establish water-quality criteria for atrazine and numerous hormone-disrupting chemicals under the Clean Water Act, the first step in regulating and eliminating persistent and widespread endocrine disruptors. The Center also requested that Nevada add contaminated areas around Lake Mead to that state’s list of impaired waters, due to pollution by endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and establish and enforce limitations on the discharge of those chemicals.
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.
The Center has also been involved in advocacy calling on the EPA and Congress to ban atrazine.