Early this month, California health officials declared Syngenta's flagship herbicide atrazine a reproductive toxicant, adding it to the Prop 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm.
Proposition 65 is a California law mandating labels and notification for all chemicals known to cause these health harms. Pesticide giant Syngenta fought tooth and nail to keep atrazine off of the Prop 65 list, but scientists at the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) followed the science instead.
There’s no doubt that atrazine fits the bill. It’s an endocrine disruptor, which means it can derail the hormone system even at low levels of exposure. The pesticide has been linked with birth defects, irregular menstrual cycles, delayed puberty and infertility. It can also increase risk of ovarian and thyroid cancer, as well as non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
High time for national action
Atrazine is the second-most commonly used pesticide in the United States. It’s a common contaminant in drinking water, especially in rural communities.
While state-level action in California is a critical step forward, the buck stops with EPA. Midwest farm communities are more likely than any others to have atrazine in their drinking water, and EPA hasn’t stepped up to restrict the herbicide yet. EPA’s own Scientific Advisory Panel has criticized the agency for underestimating the links between atrazine and certain cancers.
EPA's long overdue review of the herbicide is finally underway, and last month, the agency acknowledged that atrazine can harm wildlife and decrease plant biodiversity, even at very low levels. Now it’s time for EPA to catch up with the science on human health, and start taking steps to phase out the herbicide – by supporting farmers to step off the pesticide treadmill, and setting real targets to get atrazine out of our food system.