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Water Testing for Atrazine Severely Lacking in Hawaii

(Beyond Pesticides, March 8, 2013) Sugarcane and pineapple production in Hawaii is threatening aquatic life as years of atrazine applications, a pesticide regularly used for corn production too, has run off into rivers, streams, and groundwater sources.

Recent reviews by Hawaiian news atrazineservice Civil Beat found that water testing for the chemical is not tracked currently in the state of Hawaii, despite requirements by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulatory limits under the Clean Water Act. Instead, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture almost exclusively relies on label compliance, according to Thomas Matsuda, manager of its pesticide program. Monitoring problems have been compounded by understaffing, with only six inspectors for the state of Hawaii. Not surprising, close examination of atrazine sales records by Civil Beat indicate that the largest buyers of the chemical are Hawaiian seed corn companies Monsanto and Mycogen. Syngenta recently reached a class action settlement in City of Greeneville v. Syngenta Crop Protection, Inc., providing the Kaua’i Department of Water with $6,692.96 for atrazine clean-up expenses.

Atrazine is used nationwide to kill broadleaf and grassy weeds primarily in corn crops. A potent toxicant, atrazine is known to be associated with infertility, low birth weight, and abnormal infant development in humans. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges that the chemical may harm the reproductive and endocrine systems in fish species, while the EPA acknowledges its toxicity to algae and plant life.

Clearly, there has been a major failure of the EPA to impose and enforce strong regulations on pesticides that are known to be harmful to human health and the environment. Recent reports released by the Natural Resources Defense Council indicate that one-third of waterways tested have levels of atrazine five to ten times higher than EPA limits. Likely, Hawaii has similar problems with its waterways, considering drinking water —which is indeed tested— has repeatedly been shown to be contaminated with low levels of atrazine, mostly on the Big Island, according to the Hawaii Department of Health. Notice from the image that Hawaii is ranked 10th among the states for the percentage of its population exposed to atrazine in drinking water. While levels of exposure have been below the purported safe limits allowed by EPA, researchers have warned that fetal development may be impaired at levels below the EPA standards of 3.2 parts per billion.

Similarly, low levels of exposure to atrazine are known to impact plant and aquatic life. Particularly for the island state of Hawaii, water contamination has been shown to bleach corals and harm phytoplankton, an algae and important food source to much aquatic life. In fish and amphibians, atrazine can also reduce resilience against infections, disrupt endocrine hormones and slow growth rates, according to Jason Rohr, Ph.D., a specialist in ecotoxicology at the University of South Florida.

In 2011, EPA published a petition to ban atrazine. Beyond Pesticides submitted comments last year in support of this petition in which we outline in detail the numerous reasons that this chemical is harmful and unnecessary.

The role of environmental factors on growth and development in amphibians will be a topic of discussion at the 31st National Pesticide Forum on April 5-6, 2013 at University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, NM. Conference speaker Tyrone Hayes, Ph.D.,  professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, will discuss his research on pesticides, including atrazine, as a cause of serious deformities for amphibians. We invite you to join researchers, authors, organic business leaders, elected officials, activists, and others to discuss the latest pesticide science, policy solutions, and grassroots action. For more information, including a full speaker list please see the Forum webpage. Register now!

Source: Civil Beat

Image Source: New York Times

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.


2 Responses to “Water Testing for Atrazine Severely Lacking in Hawaii”

  1. 1
    Michele Van Hessen Says:

    House of Representatives asks for study on effects of toxic pesticide

    Honolulu –Today 19 Legislators in the State House of Representatives, including some in leadership, cosponsored HR100 and HCR129 calling for the State Director of Health to head a task force on the effects of atrazine on human health. Atrazine is a toxic, weed-killing pesticide used in Hawai‘i for decades in treating sugarcane, pineapple, and most recently seed corn.

    The Atrazine Task Force is charged with reporting its findings, including any proposed legislation, to the State Legislature no later than October 31, 2013. Legislation resulting from the task force’s recommendations will be considered during the 2014 Legislative Session.

    Hawai‘i State Representative Cynthia Thielen, a co-introducer of HR100 and HCR129, said, “It is crucial that the state make every effort to protect our residents, our ‘aina, and our oceans from the potential adverse effects of chronic atrazine exposure. Historically in Hawai‘i, waiting to investigate pesticide or chemical exposure has resulted in needless tragedy and expensive cleanups. We need more information, and the time to do this is now.”

    Research has indicated that atrazine exposure may be associated with reproductive problems in men, irregular menstrual cycles in women, and low birth weight and small head circumference in infants. In laboratory mammals, abnormal reproductive system development, impaired prostate gland formation, and abnormal breast tissue development have also been found. Additionally, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service reported that atrazine may have dangerous effects on fish.

    Tests run by the Department of Health repeatedly have shown that Hawai‘i’s drinking water, particularly on the Big Island, is contaminated with low levels of atrazine. A report by the Soil/Water/Air Protection Enterprise indicates that Hawai‘i is ranked tenth among states for the percentage of its population exposed to atrazine in drinking water.

    “I understand that the State Department of Agriculture does not test for atrazine because there is a shortage of inspectors. Companies using atrazine in Hawai‘i are policing themselves in regard to EPA application compliance. If we are not testing consistently, then how can we know that these companies are following the EPA prescribed protocols? The fact that atrazine is banned in Europe due to groundwater contamination risks should be a red flag for all of us,” said Representative Thielen.

    Atrazine has been under continued EPA evaluation and is scheduled for a registration review beginning this year.

    Contact: Office of Representative Cynthia Thielen
    Assistant Minority Leader, 50th District (Kailua, Kaneohe Bay)
    Phone: (808) 586-6480 Fax: (808) 586-6481
    Email: [email protected]

  2. 2
    Aquaread Says:

    Great to see the awareness and action regarding water testing is becoming more and more prevalent. The importance of this, from a safety point of view cannot be understated, especially when drinking water in concerned. 
    It’s not just on a grand scale that water testing can be achieved. Home kits are now readily available, and yield the exact same results as large scale water testing; at an affordable price too.
    This is really great to see.

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