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Environmentalists Assail EPA on Atrazine Decision
(from February 3, 2003)

Under the cover of a Friday January 31 news release, EPA, after a several year review, announced its decision to retain all uses of the controversial herbicide atrazine, which is recognized as a cancer-causing chemical that has contaminated waterways and groundwater throughout the midwest. Atrazine is the most widely used agricultural pesticide in the U.S., amounting to 82 million pounds active ingredient according to EPA's last published 1997 usage data, an increase over previous years.

EPA released a new Interim Reregistration Eligibility Decision (IRED), which includes a provision for ground water monitoring protocol "to protect vulnerable community drinking water systems from contamination by atrazine." Despite protective measures, environmentalists point out the already widespread contamination of atrazine throughout the country and studies linking the pesticide to various detrimental effects. EPA announced the program Friday to meet a court-ordered deadline with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental group that sued the agency to force it to assess pesticide risks and set timetables for acting to protect public health. Environmentalists attacked the decision, saying the agency had proposed no substantive regulatory changes. Jennifer Sass, an NRDC senior scientist, said, "We've reviewed the science on atrazine, and it is clear that it is dangerous at levels the EPA says are harmless. And we're shocked that EPA would abdicate its responsibility to protect the public and allow the manufacturer to write the rules."

Atrazine has emerged as one of the most widely used and controversial herbicides on the market today. After being linked to frog deformities and prostate cancer in workers, many believe the risks of atrazine outweigh the benefits.

The program announced by the EPA involves targeted monitoring of raw water (untreated) 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. Stephen L. Johnson, EPA's Assistant Administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances said, "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."

Many environmental and public health advocates believe the additional monitoring of water systems does adequately protect environmental and public health. Several European countries have banned atrazine. Ms. Sass added, "We know it causes irreparable harm to exposed wildlife, it's a potential threat to human life, and it's in our water at unacceptable levels."

Additional information on EPA's review of atrazine is available at: http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/reregistration/atrazine/ .