EPA And Academics Fight Over Notifying Public Of Weed-Killer In Drinking Water

Atrazine—a widely-used herbicide—is one of those chemicals for which there is no evidence it will kill you or give you cancer or make your eyes fall out. It’s true that it’s been linked to egg production in male frogs, but I think we can all agree that frogs pretty much want to mutate and will apparently do so at the slightest chemical nudge. The question for Americans is, should the EPA have notified affected citizens in the four states where atrazine has exceeded federal safety limits? Because it didn’t.

The Huffington Post used the Freedom of Information Act to pull data on the herbicide and discovered that

…more than 40 water systems in [Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kansa] showed spikes in atrazine levels that normally would have triggered automatic notification of customers. In none of those cases were residents alerted.

The EPA says it didn’t notify anyone because there’s no evidence atrazine hurts humans. It’s true, so far—other than the gender-bending frogs, there’s no study that proves a link between atrazine and deleterious effects in humans. (Europe has in fact banned it, but Europe and the U.S. don’t exactly share the same philosophy when it comes to banning chemicals.)

More troubling is the idea that perhaps the EPA and water utilities have been deliberately hiding information about atrazine measurements from the public to avoid PR or media disasters. The Huffington Post notes that water bills sent out to customers during the period of the study contained quarterly data on measurements, which conveniently missed the spikes that the EPA’s weekly measurements documented. Because of this, the water bills weren’t required to mention those spikes to customers. In addition, the Huffington Post notes that information about atrazine was hidden from the public EPA site:

Asked why the results of the weekly tests had not been published, the EPA’s Bradbury said “no data is withheld from the public.” Bradbury said the information has been posted on the agency’s electronic public docket. In fact, the weekly test results are one of the only items on the docket that are not posted on the site.

Instead they are listed as available only through the Freedom of Information Act.

Robert Denver, a neuroendocrinologist at the University of Michigan who has worked with the EPA, told the Huffington Post that “This is an issue of the EPA not being forthright about what they know.” An ecotoxicology specialist at the University of South Florida said, “It is the responsibility of the EPA and [atrazine manufacturer] Syngenta to inform the public of accurate levels of atrazine in their drinking water.”

To be clear, we’re not ready to get all up in arms about Killer Atrazine just yet; we just want the EPA to be forthright. The current levels of atrazine may not turn any watersheds into chemical wastelands, but we’re not sure why the EPA would require the testing and yet sit on the results.

“EPA Fails To Inform Public About Weed-Killer In Drinking Water” [Huffington Post]
(Photo: stefanie says)