EPA, ag groups spar over atrazine

In a new report released Thursday, EPA raised concerns about the effects of the popular herbicide atrazine on aquatic life, including fish, frogs, plants, and invertebrates.

"Based on the results from hundreds of toxicity studies on the effects of atrazine on plants and animals, over 20 years of surface water monitoring data, and higher tier aquatic exposure models, this risk assessment concludes that aquatic plant communities are impacted in many areas where atrazine use is heaviest, and there is potential chronic risk to fish, amphibians, and aquatic invertebrates in these locations," the report. It also noted similar concerns for birds, plants and other organisms that live on land.

Registered in 1958, atrazine is the second-most commonly applied herbicide in the U.S. Nearly all (90%) of the 72 million pounds of atrazine used in the U.S. each year is used to kill and control weeds in corn; the herbicide can also be used on sorghum and sugarcane.

Ag groups strongly criticized EPA's report, saying it was based on faulty science.

"Atrazine is a safe and effective crop management tool for farmers. It is widely used because it is among the most reliable herbicides available, and it plays a critical role in combating the spread of resistant weeds. It reduces soil erosion, increases crop yields, and improves wildlife habits," said Chip Bowling, president of the National Corn Growers Association in a statement. "It is particularly concerning that EPA has chosen to base the ecological risk assessment for atrazine on studies (that) their own Science Advisory Panel deemed 'flawed' just four years ago."

Syngenta, which produces atrazine, also found fault with the report. "EPA's draft report on the ecological assessment of the herbicide atrazine contains numerous data and methodological errors and needs to be corrected," the company said in a written statement," it said in a written statement, adding: "Atrazine increases crop yields and enables no-till farming and conservation tillage, which help keep aquatic systems healthy by dramatically reducing soil runoff into rivers and streams."

According to Syngenta and others, atrazine saves farmers an estimated $59 per corn acre by controlling weeds and raising yields.

Growers and others will have 60 days to share their comments on atrazine and EPA's research once the draft report is published in the Federal Register.