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Widely Used Atrazine in Our Water Linked to Reproductive Problems

Atrazine, one of the most widely used weed-killers in the United States and more than 60 other nations, causes reproductive problems in a variety of animal species including amphibians, fish, reptiles and mammals, according to new study in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Animals and people far from the fields should be concerned about this scientific review because atrazine is commonly found in groundwater, rivers and lakes, and rain.

Atrazine Causes a Wide Variety of Problems in Many Species

A team of 22 researchers from around the world set out to figure out exactly how much we should worry. Their paper describes how the chemical disrupts the normal reproductive development and functioning of males and females. Among their findings, "atrazine exposure can change the expression of genes involved in hormone signaling, interfere with metamorphosis, inhibit key enzymes that control estrogen and androgen production, skew the sex ratio of wild and laboratory animals (toward female)."

"The most robust findings are in amphibians”, said University of Illinois comparative biosciences professor Val Beasley, a co-author of the review. “At least 10 studies found that exposure to atrazine feminizes male frogs, sometimes to the point of sex reversal,” he said.

Atrazine Contaminates Drinking Water in U.S. Farming Regions

A full 75 million pounds of atrazine is applied to corn and other U.S. crops annually. In 2010, the Natural Resources Defense Council issued a report on atrazine contamination of drinking water sources in the Midwest and Gulf states and found:

  1. Approximately 75 percent of stream water and about 40 percent of all groundwater samples from agricultural areas tested in an extensive U.S. Geological Survey study contained atrazine.
  2. Atrazine was found in 80 percent of drinking water samples taken in 153 public water systems.
  3. All 20 watersheds NRDC looked at showed detectable levels of atrazine, and 16 had average concentrations above 1 part per billion (ppb)—the level that has been shown to harm plants and wildlife.
  4. Eighteen of those watersheds were intermittently severely contaminated with at least one sample above 20 parts per billion (ppb). Nine had a peak concentration above 50 ppb, and three watersheds had peak maximum concentrations exceeding 100 ppb.

Protecting People and Drinking Water from Atrazine Contamination

NRDC called for a complete phase-out of atrazine use, for farmers to reduce atrazine application without waiting for new regulations or a ban in the U.S. They also called for the Environmental Protection Agency step up monitoring in likely contaminated areas, and for people in contaminated regions, especially farming communities, to install and use a home water filter system. The new scientific review supports these recommendations and at least one of the authors echoes the call for a ban on atrazine.

"I hope this will stimulate policymakers to look at the totality of the data and ask very broad questions," Tyrone Hayes, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley and lead author of the review, told Science Daily. "Do we want this stuff in our environment? Do we want -- knowing what we know -- our children to drink this stuff? I would think the answer would be no."

Atrazine Water Filter

The good news for Berkey customers is that atrazine is one of the compounds that the black berkey filters remove to below a detectable level. You can find out more about what the berkey water filters remove here.

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