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Pesticides

Atrazine renewal moves forward in the US

Regulators propose slight changes to widely used herbicide

by Britt E. Erickson
December 20, 2019

20191220lnp4-atrazine.jpg

The US Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to renew approval of the herbicide atrazine, with a few modifications. The agency claims that the changes will reduce exposure to the chemical, which has been linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity in aquatic organisms and people. Environmental groups, however, argue that the proposed changes will weaken protections for aquatic organisms and human children.

Atrazine is a chlorotriazine herbicide widely used on corn, sorghum, and sugarcane in the US to control grasses and broadleaf weeds. The EPA concluded in a draft assessment in 2016 that the pesticide poses reproductive risks to aquatic plants, fish, amphibians, mammals, birds, and reptiles. In a 2018 draft assessment, the agency concluded that cumulative exposure to atrazine from food, drinking water, and residential uses poses reproductive and developmental risks to humans, particularly children.

To mitigate the risks to humans, the EPA proposes mandatory spray drift controls and a reduction in the amount of atrazine that can be applied to residential lawns and turf. Environmental groups say that will not be enough to protect children. Instead, they are urging the EPA to ban all residential uses of atrazine.

Environmental groups also point out that the EPA’s proposal will allow more atrazine to enter US waterways by increasing the level of concern for aquatic organisms from 10 ppb to 15 ppb. “It’s absolutely shameful that while other countries are banning atrazine, the Trump administration is opening up the tap,” Nathan Donley, a scientist with the advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity, says in a statement. “This disgusting backward step ignores decades of research and will inflict untold damage on people, wildlife and waters across the country.”

In contrast, farm groups welcome the proposed changes. “We appreciate the EPA’s proposal to re-register atrazine,” Gary Marshall, CEO of the Missouri Corn Growers Association and chair of the Triazine Network, says in a statement released by the EPA. “This product is tremendously important to farmers across the country, especially for weed control in conservation practices.”

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