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EPA Adopts Aggressive Measures on Herbicide Atrazine

Release Date: 01/31/2003
Contact Information:


CONTACT: David Deegan, 202-564-7839


(01/31/03) EPA announced today an innovative and aggressive program to protect vulnerable community drinking water systems from contamination by atrazine, an herbicide used widely in the U.S. on a variety of crops and nonagricultural uses. The program announced by the Agency involves intensive, targeted monitoring of raw water entering certain community water systems in areas of atrazine use. Under conditions spelled out in the document, when atrazine is detected in water above Agency safety standards the use will be prohibited in that specific watershed area. These and other measures are contained in EPA’s “Interim Reregistration Eligibility Decision” (IRED), the result of several years of concentrated analysis of the best and most recently available scientific studies.

“After the most extensive analysis ever conducted on atrazine, EPA has designed a protective, early alert system to implement rigorous monitoring and fine-tuned safeguards to protect drinking water in the communities where atrazine is used,” said Stephen L. Johnson, EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances. “For the most vulnerable watersheds, if the testing shows higher levels of atrazine than we consider acceptable, use of the product will be prohibited in that area.”

In this document, the Agency has concluded that atrazine may continue to be used, provided all the precautions and the new specific measures are implemented to reduce risks to drinking water. These new measures will help ensure the continued protection of drinking water. The Agency has concluded that risks associated with exposures from food are not of concern. Exposure from residential uses and exposure to workers are low and have been addressed by changes in product use conditions.

The provisions of this action, contained in the IRED, have also been incorporated into an agreement with the principal registrant of atrazine, Syngenta. Under this approach, Syngenta is required to conduct a specialized testing program in vulnerable watersheds on a weekly basis to monitor “raw” drinking water during high-use periods for this pesticide. If the Agency’s regulatory safety standards are exceeded in raw drinking water, atrazine use is cancelled in that geographic area. This more stringent approach requiring weekly monitoring of “raw” drinking water during certain times of the year augments monitoring conducted under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of “finished” drinking water. For all other areas where atrazine might be used, monitoring of finished drinking water for atrazine is rountinely required under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). For these systems, detections approaching the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for atrazine will trigger additional monitoring and regulatory oversight. The Agency’s existing MCL remains protective and in place. If the MCL is violated, the pesticide manufacturer is required to take the steps necessary to assist the community water system return to compliance with the atrazine MCL.

In this way EPA is allowing flexibility to account for local conditions while assuring that the Agency’s safety standards are met. The costs involved in this program will be the responsibility of atrazine manufacturers as part of their product stewardship.

The Agency is continuing to evaluate the potential effects of atrazine on amphibians, which continue to be the subject of additional research and analysis. EPA intends to submit the issue of atrazine effects on amphibians for independent scientific peer review by the FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel in June, and the Agency anticipates completion of an amended IRED, including consideration of effects on amphibians, by Oct. 31, 2003.

EPA’s work on atrazine is based on a thorough review of an extensive body of the best available scientific data and studies, and has been the subject of public and stakeholder participation, including independent scientific peer review. Atrazine is being reviewed as part of EPA’s ongoing program to evaluate older pesticides to ensure that they meet current health and environmental safety standards, including the health protective measures called for in the Food Quality Protection Act. In addition to the significant accomplishment represented by this action on atrazine, today’s action fulfills an obligation to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and others under a consent agreement.

First registered in 1958, atrazine is estimated to be the most heavily used herbicide in the U.S. The largest uses are on corn, sugarcane and residential lawns. Extensive additional information on EPA’s review of atrazine is available at: http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/reregistration/atrazine/ .