Have you heard of atrazine? It is the second most-used herbicide in the United States, dwarfed only by sales of glyphosate (Roundup). It is used to prevent broadleaf weeds in crops (e.g., corn and sugarcane) and on turf, such as golf courses and residential lawns.

This herbicide was banned in the European Union in 2004 when the EU found groundwater levels exceeding the limits set by regulators. In 2001, an environmental study found that atrazine was the most commonly detected pesticide contaminating our ground, surface and drinking water in the United States! Here we are 19 years later and the product is still being sold. But that’s not the worst of it!

Atrazine exposure is also linked to cancer and is hazardous to most plants and animals, especially amphibians, fish and aquatic plants. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency did an ecological assessment of atrazine which confirmed that the herbicide persists in the environment and is prone to spray drift, runoff and leaching. Further, the EPA concluded that atrazine poses chronic risks to fish, amphibians, birds, mammals and plants.

It turns out that atrazine is a hormone-disrupting compound. Research shows that early-life exposure can suppress fetal growth, delay sexual maturation and cause birth defects as well as irregular menstrual cycles. Long-term exposure to the herbicide is also hazardous to the kidneys.

According to the Center for Food Safety, “Despite the clear scientific evidence that atrazine poses harm to our health, wildlife and the environment, Trump’s EPA is proposing not only to renew it, but to weaken the protections around this dangerous pesticide by increasing the concentration threshold of atrazine allowed in waterways.” “To make matters worse,” they say, “...[the] EPA is proposing the termination of a long-standing program to measure atrazine levels in community drinking water systems.”

Day by day our environmental safeguards are being eroded by this administration. For what? Our current president has called the agency “a disgrace” and promised to abolish it. The why is rooted in special interests. My understanding is that the EPA’s mission is to protect human and environmental health. At least, that’s what its mission used to be.

Perhaps a little history is in order. The EPA was an offshoot of President Richard Nixon’s Environmental Quality Council formed in 1969 to address growing concerns about the increasingly contaminated environment of the 1960s. Shortly after, Congress passed the Environmental Policy Act of 1969, one element of which was to create a Council on Environmental Policy empowered to review all federal activities that affect the quality of life.

Although initially reluctant to create a federal agency that set, monitored and enforced environmental laws, Nixon acknowledged increasing concerns about the environment and said, “Our national government today is not structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants which debase the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that grows our food. Indeed, the present governmental structure for dealing with environmental pollution often defies effective and concerted action. ... Despite its complexity...the environment must be perceived as a single, interrelated system.” That said, Nixon established the EPA in 1970, which unified environmental programs under a single agency.

In his 1970 State of the Union speech Nixon said, “Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions.” He called environmental preservation a “common cause of all the people of this country. It is a cause of particular concern to young Americans, because they more than we will reap the grim consequences of our failure to act on programs which are needed now if we are to prevent disaster later. Clean air, clean water, open spaces – these should once again be the birthright of every American.” This is truer today than ever before!

The EPA of the pre-Trump era was an agency that transformed American life for the better. Since its founding, concentrations of common pollutants, like sulfur dioxide, have dropped as much as 67 percent (according to EPA data). The agency helped mitigate disasters like acid rain, leaded gasoline and DDT. They classified second-hand smoke as a known carcinogen in 1993 paving the way for litigation against the tobacco industry and leading to a huge reduction in U.S. smoking rates. How much of that history has been forgotten?

I urge readers to stop using herbicides like atrazine and glyphosphate. A few weeds will not kill you, but these herbicides just might! Also, please contact the EPA and urge them to protect public health, endangered species and the environment. I don’t know if it will do any good, but it’s worth a try.

 

Donna Lane owns Lane Interiors & Gardens, is a master gardener, past president of the Norwood Evening Garden Club, and an active member of many other horticultural organizations. You can reach Donna at LaneInteriors@verizon.net.