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EPA Opens Comments Period for Proposed Atrazine Ban

Rising awareness for banning the pesticide atrazine leads to the EPA opening a Notice of Availability.

By Phuong-Cac Nguyen

September 23, 2011

spraying pesticides over cotton crops

Photo courtesy of Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Thinkstock

The EPA is taking steps toward banning the popular herbicide atrazine, a known endocrine disruptor.

Spurred by a petition beefed up with more than 60,000 signatures and emails, the EPA opened a Notice of Availability on September 14 for a possible ban on the popular herbicide atrazine. The Notice of Availability seeks public comments on the subject for 60 days.

The chemical — most commonly found in American groundwater and is the second most popular herbicide in the U.S. — was banned in Europe in 2004 because of its harmful properties. Traces of atrazine still remain in France even though it was last used there 15 years ago.

The Switzerland agrochemical company Syngenta produces atrazine and sells 80 million pounds of it to the United States annually. American farmers rely on the pesticide to combat weed growth in their cornsorghum and sugar cane fields, and it is also applied to lawns and golf courses.

But not all of the atrazine stays in the ground. Once sprayed, more than a half million pounds of atrazine are swept up into the wind and come back in the form of rain and snowfall.

Studies done on male frogs have shown that atrazine in concentrations of 2.5 parts per billion disrupts the endocrine system, leading to immunosuppression and hermaphroditism. Among fish, scientists have found that atrazine affects the reproductive process. In humans, findings point to the connection it may have with cancer. The U.S. Geological Survey, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of South Florida have all published reports on the harmful effects of atrazine.

Supporters of nonprofit organizations Save the Frogs, Natural Resources Defense Council and Center for Biological Diversity signed the petition.

“Atrazine is the 21st century’s DDT,” says Save the Frogs Founder and Executive Director Kerry Kriger. The organization’s mission is to defend amphibians, whose extinction rates have been rising at high rates. Save the Frogs contributed 10,000 signatures and is the group behind the request for the EPA’s Notice of Availability. “Now that we have the EPA’s attention, we are a large step closer towards protecting our food supply, our drinking water and our wildlife from this known endocrine disruptor,” Kriger says.

“However, only a few percent of Americans have ever heard of atrazine, so raising awareness of the issue is critical if we are to overcome the lobbying power of the billion-dollar agro-chemical giants.”

Those who want to comment on this issue must do so by November 14 via the online website, mail or delivered correspondence. Detailed information on the petition can be found on the Federal Register website.

Syngenta, which earned more than $11 billion last year, currently ranks as no. 1 in the list of the world’s biggest pesticide company.

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