1 February 2003
Stops Short of Banning Herbicide
Washington Post Staff Writer
Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday that it will
require stepped-up monitoring of surface water supplies that contain
high levels of the widely used herbicide atrazine, but the action
fell far short of demands by environmental groups to ban the use
of the substance.
is most commonly used to control weeds in corn, sugar cane and sorghum
crops and on residential lawns in the Southeast. EPA officials said
monitoring of surface water before it is treated in drinking water
plants will begin this year at 200 sites where tests of treated
water have shown levels of atrazine close to or above legal limits.
The 200 sites are in 11 states in the Midwest and South.
AG, a Swiss-based company that is the largest manufacturer of atrazine
in the United States, will conduct the monitoring and will be required
to take corrective steps if levels of the herbicide in drinking
water remain too high, said Stephen L. Johnson, EPA's assistant
administrator for prevention, pesticides and toxic substances.
the amount of atrazine in drinking water is not reduced to acceptable
levels, Johnson said, use of the herbicide in the affected watershed
area will be banned "forever."
said eight of the 200 water systems currently have atrazine levels
significantly above the legal limit and could be the first to face
a ban on the use of the herbicide in surrounding fields. Two water
systems in Missouri, two in Kentucky, and sites in Illinois, Indiana,
Louisiana and Iowa are involved.
announcement was the latest development in a long, contentious battle
between the EPA and environmental groups over the health risks posed
by the application of 76 million pounds of atrazine in the United
States each year. Johnson called the surface water monitoring requirement
"unique," but Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist with the
Natural Resources Defense Council, said she was "flabbergasted"
by the EPA announcement.
reviewed the science on atrazine, and it is clear that it is dangerous
at levels the EPA says are harmless," she said. "And we're
shocked that EPA would abdicate its responsibility to protect the
public and allow the manufacturer to write the rules."
said several European countries have banned atrazine and that it
should be prohibited in the United States. "We know it causes
irreparable harm to exposed wildlife, it's a potential threat to
human life, and it's in our water at unacceptable levels,"
and other EPA officials said the agency plans to develop a "very
rigorous and comprehensive compliance system" to assure that
the monitoring by Syngenta is accurate. "We'll be checking
on them and will develop a process where they realize we're going
to be there."
Pastoor, head of global risk assessment for Syngenta, which describes
itself as the world's largest agribusiness company, said the firm
has been voluntarily monitoring surface water atrazine levels at
many of the 200 sites since 1993. He said the agreement the company
reached with the EPA was a "significant milestone."