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WASHINGTON, Sept. 18, 2020 — The Environmental Protection Agency reapproved the pesticide atrazine today, an endocrine-disrupting herbicide banned across much of the world that castrates frogs and is linked to birth defects and cancer in people.
Today’s approval eliminates longstanding safeguards for children’s health and allows 50% more atrazine to end up in U.S. waterways.
“Use of this extremely dangerous pesticide should be banned, not expanded,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This disgusting decision directly endangers the health of millions of Americans.”
Due to its well-documented health risks, atrazine has been banned or is being phased out in more than 35 countries. But it remains the second-most used pesticide in the United States.
In allowing the continued use of atrazine, the EPA discarded safety precautions mandated under the Food Quality Protection Act that protect young children from pesticide exposures. In doing so the agency is ignoring multiple independent epidemiological studies finding that developing embryos and young children are at a high risk of harm from this pesticide.
The EPA also reduced the protection factor it uses to convert toxicity levels observed in rat and mouse studies to levels considered safe for humans. The more permissive benchmark relies solely on a model developed by the primary manufacturer of atrazine, Syngenta.
Had the correct standards been used, atrazine uses on lawns and turf would likely have been cancelled due to unacceptable harms to children. In today’s decision the agency is only proposing a modest reduction in application rate for turf.
The reapproval also weakens environmental safeguards put in place in 2006 to protect aquatic life from harmful atrazine exposure, a move that will increase the amount of atrazine allowed in waterways across the United States.
“This decision imperils the health of our children and the safety of drinking water supplies across much of the nation,” said Donley. “No one will be left untouched by the bad decision the EPA just made.”
Earlier this year the EPA lifted a longstanding requirement that atrazine maker Syngenta must monitor rivers, streams and lakes in the Midwest for dangerous levels of the pesticide in 2020, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
In today’s decision the EPA also announced that Syngenta has proposed cancelling some uses of atrazine, including all uses in Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories; all roadside applications; and all applications on conifers such as Christmas trees and in forests. This action is in response to a legal settlement with the Center and Pesticide Action Network North America that requires EPA to analyze the effects of atrazine on endangered species by 2021.
Due to the extreme toxicity and persistence of atrazine, the pesticide’s manufacturers were forced to take this action to avoid mandatory label restrictions after the analyses are complete.