One of the common surface water contaminants, especially in rural farming regions, is atrazine. This herbicide has been widely used for weed control and has been restricted in some countries.
In this guide, we’ve shared everything you need to know about atrazine in drinking water, including what it is, its potential health risks, how it gets into water, and more.
📌 Key Takeaways:
- Atrazine is a herbicide that’s used to control the growth of certain weeds and is commonly used in growing crops.
- This chemical enters surface water supplies due to runoff and has potential health effects including reproductive system effects and cancer.
- Atrazine is tasteless and odorless in water, so check your Water Quality Report or conduct a laboratory water test if you’re concerned about this contaminant.
Table of Contents
- ❔ What Is Atrazine In Water?
- 🚰 How Does Atrazine Get Into Water?
- 🔎 How To Know If Your Water Contains Atrazine
- 🚱 Is Atrazine In Drinking Water Dangerous?
- 📉 Is Atrazine In Tap Water Regulated?
- 🧪 When To Test For Atrazine In Water
- 👩🏽⚕️ What To Do If You’re Concerned About Atrazine In Your Water
- ⚠️ Other Ways You Might Be Exposed To Atrazine
- 📑 Final Word: Removing Atrazine From Water
❔ What Is Atrazine In Water?
Atrazine is a herbicide that contaminates drinking water supplies, sourced from both surface water and groundwater bodies, due to agricultural runoff from crops.
This chemical isn’t naturally present in the earth. It’s manmade, primarily by the manufacturer Syngenta, and is currently one of the most widely-used herbicides in the US.
Syngenta has faced an 8-year class action lawsuit against several Midwestern water companies, which was settled in 2012 when the manufacturer agreed to pay $105 million for more than 1,000 water treatment systems to remove atrazine from drinking water.
Atrazine is currently banned in the EU, but it can still be legally used in the US – although there are some limitations.
In 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of atrazine in Hawaii and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the North Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The EPA also prohibited the use of the herbicide along roadsides and on conifers in private and public lands.
In 2022, the EPA reevaluated atrazine’s effects on plant life and proposed additional mitigation to protect communities of aquatic plants in watersheds with high levels of atrazine above the organization’s concentration equivalent level of concern.
🚰 How Does Atrazine Get Into Water?
Atrazine gets into water due to runoff from farm fields where certain crops are growing.
Atrazine is used to prevent the growth of pre- and post-emergence grassy and broadleaf weeds when growing row crops such as sorghum, sugar cane, asparagus, maize, and pineapple. It’s also used in non-crop areas for non-selective weed control, and in forestry.
Although its use has been restricted, atrazine has already done its damage in the environment. The herbicide gets into water supplies through runoff and groundwater seepage.
Agricultural runoff from rainwater or flooding carries atrazine into waterways that are eventually used to supply public drinking water.
Atrazine may also seep through the earth into underground aquifers, contaminating well supplies. It enters spring water in the same manner.
Incorrect storage or dumping of atrazine may also cause this contaminant to enter natural waterways.
If you live in a rural region with lots of farming activity or forestry, the atrazine levels in your local public drinking water supplies are likely to be higher.
🔎 How To Know If Your Water Contains Atrazine
So, how can you find out whether or not your tap water is affected by atrazine contamination?
We’ve shared a couple of options below.
Read Your Water Quality Report
All water utilities in the US are legally required to produce annual Water Quality Reports, or Consumer Confidence Reports, that document all the impurities and contaminants detected in their treated drinking water.
If your water supplier detected atrazine, this contaminant should be listed in the report. The range of atrazine levels, and the average level, should be documented.
You can find your Water Quality Report by searching for your local authority or water utility, followed by “Water Quality Report” or “Consumer Confidence Report”.
Test Your Water
If you would rather gather your own testing data, you own a private well, or you want to confirm the accuracy of your water utility’s testing, another option is to test your water for atrazine.
A few laboratories sell atrazine water tests, which give an accurate reading of the atrazine concentrations detected in a given water source.
Simply take a sample of your water and send it to the laboratory for testing. Your results will be returned within 1-2 weeks.
🚱 Is Atrazine In Drinking Water Dangerous?
Yes, atrazine in drinking water is considered dangerous because it has several known human health effects.
According to an ATSDR report, atrazine ingested in contaminated water or food enters your bloodstream by passing through the lining of your intestines and stomach. The chemical doesn’t build up in the body; it’s expelled, primarily in your urine, within 24-48 hours.
There is limited research into the potential human health risks associated with atrazine ingestion, but what we know so far is concerning.
Several studies of couples living on farms that use atrazine to control weeds found that this herbicide can have unwanted reproductive effects and increase the likelihood of pre-term delivery.
Other studies have found that atrazine has the following effects on humans and/or animals:
- Damage to the kidneys, liver, and heart
- Changes to hormone levels in the blood, reducing the ability to reproduce
- Slowed fetal growth and an increased risk of birth defects
- Developmental delays in children
The most known health effects of the herbicide come from prenatal atrazine exposure. There’s a high risk of adverse birth outcomes, including harm to a developing fetus, in communities that receive atrazine-contaminated tap water supplies.
There are also a number of animal studies that suggest atrazine may be linked to certain cancers, but there isn’t enough evidence to fully support this theory.
Understanding the effects of atrazine exposure on humans is often difficult because atrazine is typically used alongside other herbicides and farming chemicals with their own potential health effects.
📉 Is Atrazine In Tap Water Regulated?
Yes, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently regulates atrazine in drinking water to protect human health.
The current legal limit for atrazine in treated tap water is 3 parts per billion (PPB). That means water utilities must take suitable steps to reduce their water’s atrazine levels to below 3 PPB, and, if necessary, look into ways to protect their natural water bodies and reduce the risk of atrazine contamination.
Some states and local authorities have their own regulations for atrazine in drinking water to protect human populations from this chemical.
For instance, California has a much lower public health goal of 0.15 PPB, set by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in 1999, after a study was released that linked atrazine exposure to breast cancer in rats. The state’s legal limit for atrazine in tap water is 1 PPB.
Some organizations believe that the EPA’s legal limit for atrazine is too high. For instance, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has issued its own Health Guideline of 0.1 PPB for atrazine, stating that this much lower guideline is needed to protect public health.
🧪 When To Test For Atrazine In Water
So, when should you test for atrazine in your water?
We recommend testing your water’s atrazine concentration if you live in an agricultural area or your property is near corn and soybean fields, which are the most likely to use this herbicide.
Whether or not you test for atrazine is your decision, and depends on how concerned you are about your potential risk of being exposed to this chemical in contaminated drinking water.
👩🏽⚕️ What To Do If You’re Concerned About Atrazine In Your Water
If you’ve discovered that your water contains atrazine, or you’re concerned about this contaminant or similar toxic substances, there are a few things you can do, depending on your situation:
- If your water is supplied municipally, you shouldn’t technically have to resolve the issue yourself. Your water utility should reduce atrazine down to below the EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Level.
- You can install a suitable water treatment system to reduce atrazine if it’s detected in “safe” levels in your city water but you want to avoid drinking it at all.
- If you get your water from a private well and you live in an agricultural community, test your water at least once a year for atrazine and install a water filter if necessary. You can find out more about the use of pesticides and herbicides in your region by contacting your local authority.
- You can retest your water after installing a filtration system to check that your solution is effectively removing this herbicide.
⚠️ Other Ways You Might Be Exposed To Atrazine
Other ways you might be at risk of exposure to atrazine are:
- Through eating contaminated foods. Because atrazine is used to control weeds when growing corn, sorghum, and sugar cane, residues of the herbicide are found in these crops. Atrazine is also found in crops used for livestock feed, which means that certain meats also contain this chemical.
- Through inhaling the substance. If you work in forestry or agriculture and you use atrazine in your operations, you’re at risk of exposure to this herbicide through inhalation.
- Through skin contact. Children in particular are at risk of atrazine exposure by playing in soils and dirt contaminated with this herbicide. Atrazine doesn’t have to be ingested to pose a health risk – it’s thought to be capable of passing through the skin.
📑 Final Word: Removing Atrazine From Water
Despite its known public health risks, atrazine is still used widely to control grassy weeds today.
Even worse, due to its relatively long half-life of 60 to 100 days, this herbicide poses a significant concern to water supplies.
What can you do if you detect this contaminant in your water?
We recommend installing one of the following water filtration systems:
- Reverse osmosis systems
- Activated carbon block filters
Both of these can greatly reduce atrazine in drinking water, near-eliminating the health risks of this contaminant.
It’s possible to greatly reduce your risk of atrazine exposure at home. The first step is being aware of this commonly detected pesticide – you can then move on to looking into methods of reducing atrazine in your water if necessary.