Research Paper: Atrazine Banned in Europe

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Atrazine Banned in Europe


There is a considerable amount of controversy about the issue of the use of the chemical atrazine in agriculture. Atrazine is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the U.S. And is applied to approximately seventy percent of the maize crop (Atrazine). The debate about the use of this herbicide in the United States in particular has intensified during the last year. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has become involved in this debate and the revaluation of the toxicity of Atrazine by the EPA has not as yet been completed as a result of"… a plethora of new and contradictory studies on the health effects of Atrazine" (Erickson, 2010).

Atrazine is however banned in other countries in Europe and this has also placed a question mark over its continued use in the United States. The substance has not received regulatory approval by the European Union and its use is banned in most European countries, including Switzerland, where the herbicide is in fact manufactured. The reason for this banning is that proof was found of contamination of drinking water supplies (EU on Atrazine). As one report states, Atrazine "…first came under scrutiny for its effects on frogs, and more recently has been linked to adverse affects on human health" (EU on Atrazine). In France it has been found that atrazine has persisted in groundwater even after fifteen years. It is estimated that it will take an entire generation before the environment free of this product (Atrazine is a ubiquitous, persistent, and highly mobile contaminant).

Despite proof from various sources that this chemicals poses health risks it still continues to be used in the United States (What is Atrazine? And why do we love it?). The herbicide was given approval by the EPA in 2006, but this decision has been questioned and, as will be discussed, it is being reassessed in the light of the European decision; as well as in the light of a plethora of contemporary research studies that are investigating the toxicity of this chemical. Taking into account this reassessment and the doubt that has been cast on the previous acceptance of this chemical, it is clear that this herbicide should be banned in the United States. The central thesis that this paper will explore is that atrazine is an herbicide that poses potential threats to human health, as well as to the environment.


Atrazine is described as a triazine herbicide which is widely used "… on a variety of crops, notably maize, sorghum and sugar-cane, for the pre- and post-emergent control of broad-leaved weeds" ( Volume 73: Some Chemicals that Cause Tumours of the Kidney or Urinary Bladder in Rodents and Some Other Substances. ) a 1999 report from the World Health Organization states that, "Occupational exposure may occur through both inhalation and dermal absorption during its manufacture, its formulation and its application by spraying" ( Volume 73: Some Chemicals that Cause Tumours & #8230; ). It is also found in rivers and lakes, as well as in, estuaries, groundwater and reservoirs. However the levels of the substance that have been found in drinking water in the United States are usually very low (Volume 73: Some Chemicals that Cause Tumours & #8230;).

While many tests of the product have not in the past shown exceptional levels of toxicity, what has raised alarm bells is the fact that research has conclusively shown that atrazine has a negative effect on the sexual development of frogs. The research has found that "… atrazine at levels often found in the environment demasculinises tadpoles and turns them into hermaphrodites, with males having ovaries in their testes and much smaller vocal organs, and with ten times lower levels of testosterone than normal male frogs" (Atrazine). This has obvious environmental consequences but also raises concerns about the effect of this product on humans.

In more formal terms atrazine is a "selective systemic herbicide" which was introduced by J.R. Geigy in 1958. It is manufactured originally by Novartis, as well as a number of different companies and goes under various tradenames, such as Coyote (Defensa), Atrazina (Cequisa), Atrazol (Sipcam) and Vectal (Aventis) ( Atrazine ). The functioning of this herbicide is described as "….the pre and post-emergence control of annual and broad leaved weeds and perennial grasses; it inhibits photosynthesis and interferes with other enzymic processes. It is mainly absorbed through the plant roots, but can enter through the foliage, and accumulates in the apical meristems and leaves" (Atrazine).

Atrazine is used mainly in the production of maize, sorghum, sugar cane, pineapples, chemical fallows, grassland, macadamia nuts, conifers and for industrial weed control (Atrazine). It is often used in combination with other herbicides, such as simazine (Atrazine). What is also a factor that features in the debate about the use of this herbicide is the fact that, "The world market for atrazine is worth over $400 million at the user level" (Common herbicide is harmful to fish).

The Debate

As has been briefly referred to, the EPA previously assessed the various risk factors involved in the use of this pesticide in 2006 and came to the conclusion "… that the 50-year-old weed-killing chemical is safe for use on corn, sorghum, and other crops when applied as directed" (Erickson, 2010). However, this position was put into doubt when the EPA was approached in 2009 to reconsider its assessment of the pesticide. This move was due to the fact that a number of studies showed a possible link between the use of this pesticide and birth defects, premature births, and low birth weight in humans (Erickson, 2010).

While the EPA took these studies that showed the herbicide to be dangerous to humans into account, it also acknowledged that in some cases the "…quality of those human epidemiology studies is insufficient for use in a quantitative risk assessment of atrazine" (Erickson, 2010). Furthermore, "With respect to human epidemiology, EPA considered hundreds of published studies, but only 19 of them met the agency's criteria" (Erickson, 2010). This view however has not put a halt to the EPA's reevaluation of atrazine and the testing of the substance for toxicity finding and the relevance of these findings for human health is still continuing.

What is disconcerting in this testing is that some studies have shown a significant correlation between the use of this herbicide and reproduction. This includes delayed menopause, increased gestational diabetes, and poor semen quality (Erickson, 2010). They also showed birth defects and low birth weight associated with atrazine exposure during pregnancy. This can be seen in numerous animal tests; for example, one research study showed that there was "…significant delayed mammary gland development in animals exposed to extremely high doses of atrazine…"(Erickson, 2010).

These numerous studies attest to the actual and potential negative impact of prolonged exposure to this herbicide on animals and the environment, and by implication on humans. A report by the World Health Organization states that;

A pooled analysis of the results of three population-based case -- control studies of men in Kansas, eastern Nebraska and Iowa -- Minnesota, United States, in which the risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma in relation to exposure to atrazine and other herbicides on farms was evaluated, showed a significant association… "

(Volume 73: Some Chemicals that Cause Tumours & #8230;)

This implies a link between certain cancers and the use of herbicides like atrazine. However, the same report also states that "…Less information was available to evaluate the association between exposure to atrazine and other cancers & #8230;and one study of multiple myeloma from Iowa gave no indication of excess risk among persons handling triazine herbicides " (Volume 73: Some Chemicals that Cause Tumours & #8230; ). Therefore there is also the view that the link between certain cancers and this product is not certain or final.

On the other hand, a 2005 study of the effects of atrazine on reproduction in animals states the following:

…the data suggest that the consequences of brief ATR exposure during a critical period of fetal MG development (GD 17 -- 19), are both delayed MG development of the offspring and inadequate nutritional support of F2 offspring, resulting in adverse effects on pup weight gain. (Rayner J. et al. 2005, p. 255)

The other side of the debate paints a very different picture. From this perspective there is a strong case for a positive assessment of this herbicide. As might be expected, the primary manufacturer of atrazine in the U.S., Syngenta, has undertaken its own research and scientific study of the herbicide. The results of this study differ markedly from many of the negative reports about the use of this chemical. For example, in the recent report put out by the company, there was no evidence of retardation or delay in mammary gland development in animals exposed to the substance.

The company also claims that:

For 50 years, farmers around the world have relied on atrazine herbicide -- one of the triazine family of herbicides -- to fight… [END OF PREVIEW]

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