In the last week, the New York Times, Huffington Post, Washington Post and Peoria Journal Star have all run features covering an emerging scandal around atrazine contamination in the U.S. water supply. Atrazine is a widely used herbicide that was banned by the EU in 2004. Around that time, Syngenta (atrazine’s manufacturer) held over 50 private meetings with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulators who were then reconsidering atrazine’s registration. Independent scientists and health advocates enjoyed considerably less access to decision-makers, and no peer-review access to the Syngenta-sponsored science that informed EPA’s ruling. Since then, a growing body of research has linked atrazine with birth defects, low birth weights (see below) and certain forms of cancer. Epidemiological studies indicate that very low level fetal exposure at key periods (via a pregnant woman drinking water contaminated well below the legal limit) may interrupt critical developmental processes, resulting in skull and facial malformations and misshapen limbs.
WhatsOnMyFood? finds atrazine in 70% of U.S. drinking water – and the highest levels of contamination are in the Midwest where it is widely used on corn fields. While local water systems are required to test for atrazine on no more than a quarterly basis, the EPA requires Syngenta to test weekly at 150 vulnerable watersheds. The former generally find levels below the legal contamination limit of 3 parts per billion (ppb), but the latter, more frequent testing finds spikes to concentrations many times over the legal limit. For instance, residents in McClure, Ohio were told that their highest level of contamination in 2008 was 3.4 ppb, while hitherto undisclosed EPA/Syngenta results for June show atrazine contamination at 33.83 ppb — more than ten times the legal limit.
Video – How Safe Is Atrazine?