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Pesticides

Common herbicide likely to harm endangered species, US EPA says

Atrazine has potential to affect numerous species and their habitats

by Britt E. Erickson
November 14, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 44

 

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The widely used herbicide atrazine is likely to adversely affect more than 50% of threatened and endangered species and 40% of habitats critical for those species, the US Environmental Protection Agency reports in a draft biological evaluation released Nov. 5. The findings come less than 2 months after the agency declared that atrazine can stay on the US market.

Chronic exposure to atrazine is linked to growth and reproductive effects in humans and wildlife. The herbicide is not approved for use in the European Union because of concerns about water contamination. Atrazine is commonly used in the US to control grasses and broadleaf weeds on corn and sorghum fields and weeds on residential lawns.

The EPA’s draft biological evaluation relied on an approach criticized by environmental groups, which claim that it minimizes risks by ignoring pesticide runoff into waters where some endangered species live. Even with the updated method, the EPA found risks to numerous species.

“With this troubling finding, even the EPA has been forced to acknowledge the unacceptable harm caused by atrazine,” Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, says in a statement.

The EPA is accepting public comments on the draft evaluation until Jan. 5. If the final evaluation finds that atrazine may impact any endangered species, the EPA is required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Those agencies would then determine whether atrazine adversely impacts any endangered species and, in cases where it does, suggest ways to minimize those risks.

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