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NRDC Sues EPA for Failing to Protect Endangered Wildlife from Atrazine
(Beyond Pesticides, August 22, 2003)
According to a lawsuit filed August 20, 2003 by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to protect endangered species in the Chesapeake Bay, Mississippi River, Missouri River, and other major Midwestern and Southern rivers from the herbicide atrazine. The group alleges that EPA is permitting the widespread use of atrazine even though the agency acknowledges the weed-killer might harm endangered species.

"EPA knows that rivers and streams across the country are so contaminated with atrazine that sea turtles and other endangered species are at risk," said Aaron Colangelo, an NRDC staff attorney, "but the agency is sitting on its hands." NRDC is particularly concerned about the threat atrazine poses to endangered sea turtles in the Chesapeake Bay; salamanders in Austin, Texas; freshwater mussels in Alabama; and fish in the Midwest. The group called on EPA to ban atrazine in June 2002 after studies showed it poses a significant threat to public health.

Atrazine, which has been banned in several European countries, is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States. Between 60 million and 70 million pounds of atrazine are applied annually to fields, golf courses and lawns. EPA has found that there is widespread atrazine contamination in U.S. waterways, and has concluded that atrazine may harm endangered fish, reptiles, amphibians, mussels, and the aquatic plant life that provides habitat for endangered species. Atrazine also contaminates drinking water and may harm people as well. More than 1 million Americans drink from water supplies that are contaminated with atrazine at levels higher than EPA's drinking water standard.

"Atrazine has been shown to cause developmental and reproductive effects in wildlife," said Dr. Katherine Squibb, toxicology program director at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "Atrazine exposure could jeopardize the survival of a number of endangered species."

Beyond Pesticides reported in a June 20, 2003 Daily News story that EPA scientists announced that there is "sufficient evidence" to conclude that atrazine causes sexual abnormality in frogs. The scientists noted that there had been six studies involving three species of frogs that show a variety of defects, including frogs with both multiple testes and multiple ovaries, when exposed to the chemical. They are recommending that the agency conduct more research to understand atrazine's mechanisms and its broader impact on frog populations. Click here for the full story.