Atrazine, a prevalent synthetic organic compound used as a herbicide, predominantly targets grassy weeds in agricultural areas, notably corn fields. Despite its efficacy in agriculture, atrazine frequently finds its way into public drinking water supplies, posing significant challenges to human health and environmental quality.
This article explains the multi-faceted issues surrounding atrazine in water, the potential implications of sustained exposure, and the protective measures enforced by federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- Atrazine is a widely used herbicide that frequently contaminates groundwater and surface water due to agricultural runoff.
- Ingesting atrazine can lead to increased human health risks such as lymphoma, leukemia, tumors, and uterine cancer.
- As an endocrine disruptor, atrazine affects hormone function which can cause birth defects, low fetal weight, and reduced fetal survival rates.
- The EPA’s maximum contaminant level (MCL) for atrazine in drinking water is .003 mg/L.
- The best water filtration method to treat atrazine is reverse osmosis, granular activated carbon (GAC), and water distillation.
What Exactly Is Atrazine?
Atrazine, known by several trade names, is a synthetic organic compound used extensively as a herbicide. It was designed to combat various grassy and broadleaf weeds that plague crops such as corn, sorghum, and sugarcane.
Atrazine falls under the chlorinated triazine class of herbicides (C8H14ClN5), making it a restricted use herbicide that can only be purchased by certified users. Not to be confused with glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in Roundup, atrazine has been described as significantly worse as it is an endocrine disruptor.
Because of its widespread use and persistence, especially in rural and agricultural regions, it has become one of the most commonly found contaminants in our nation’s streams, groundwater, and surface water sources.
How Does Atrazine Get Into The Water Supply?
The primary sources of atrazine in our groundwater and surface water supply include:
Atrazine is frequently applied to crops and agricultural fields to control broadleaf and grassy weeds. The herbicide can then be transported by rain or irrigation water, entering nearby surface water sources such as streams, rivers, and lakes.
This runoff often enters public water systems, contributing to atrazine’s widespread presence in water supplies, especially in rural and agricultural regions.
Atrazine exhibits moderate water solubility and can infiltrate through soil layers, particularly in sandy regions or areas with high water tables. This leaching process allows atrazine to contaminate groundwater, which may eventually feed into our drinking water supply.
During the application process, especially when spraying, wind can transport tiny droplets of atrazine, depositing them onto non-target areas, including water bodies. This drift phenomenon can lead to inadvertent contamination of our surface water sources.
Spills and improper disposal
Accidental spills during transport, mixing, loading, or application and improper disposal of atrazine containers can introduce high concentrations of atrazine into water systems. Regulatory bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency stress proper handling to avoid such incidents.
Beyond its widespread use in agriculture, atrazine is also utilized in urban settings for weed control on residential lawns, golf courses, and other landscaped areas. Runoff from these urban applications can significantly contribute to water contamination.
Soil bacteria can break down atrazine into other compounds, which, like atrazine, are water-soluble and can migrate into water supplies. These degradation products may persist in the environment, extending atrazine’s impact.
What Are The Regulatory Limits For Atrazine In Drinking Water?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), responsible for safeguarding public health and the environment, has established strict regulatory limits for atrazine, a synthetic organic compound, in drinking water to protect human health. Recognizing atrazine as one of the common drinking water contaminants, the EPA has been continually refining its policies and guidelines.
Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA set the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for atrazine in public drinking water supplies at .003 mg/L. This limit applies to both surface water and groundwater sources that serve public water systems, and it’s designed to keep the risk associated with atrazine exposure at a manageable level.
Understanding that the maximum contaminant level is not a definitive “safe” or “unsafe” boundary is crucial. Still, it represents a balance between the cost and feasibility of water treatment and the level of protection deemed appropriate against potential health risks.
This limit is set based on long-term exposure scenarios, as short-term spikes in atrazine levels in the water supply are less likely to have immediate health impacts but may contribute to long-term risk.
Water systems are required to regularly test the water for atrazine concentrations. If the average level over a year exceeds the MCL, the water system must take steps to reduce the contaminant level and notify its customers.
The California Office Of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has set the public health goal for atrazine concentrations in drinking water at 0.00015 mg/L, which is significantly lower than the EPA’s maximum contaminant level.
These regulations aim not merely to respond to atrazine contamination but to prevent significant atrazine exposure through our drinking water. These protective measures are continually reviewed and updated based on new scientific research and monitoring data, ensuring a persistent commitment to safeguarding public health.
What Are The Human Health Effects Of Atrazine In Drinking Water?
Atrazine in public drinking water supplies poses potential health risks for human populations. Prolonged or high-dose exposure to this synthetic organic compound can have varying effects on human health. These include:
Atrazine is an endocrine disruptor. It can interfere with the body’s hormonal systems, potentially leading to reproductive issues. Studies have suggested a link between atrazine exposure and decreased fertility, though results have been mixed, and further research is necessary.
Atrazine exposure may also affect the developing fetus. Some research points towards a positive association between atrazine exposure and certain birth defects, but again, findings are not definitive, and more research is needed.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified atrazine as a possible human carcinogen based on sufficient evidence of animal carcinogenicity. However, human studies have not conclusively demonstrated a link between atrazine exposure and developing cancer.
Other health effects
Occupational exposure to atrazine can result in irritation of the eyes and skin. Ingestion of high levels can lead to cardiovascular or gastrointestinal issues.
Observations For Astrazine
Observing atrazine contamination in drinking water can be quite challenging as this herbicide is colorless, odorless, and doesn’t affect the taste of water. However, sure indirect signs may hint at the presence of atrazine or other pesticides in your water:
- Water source near agricultural fields. The likelihood of contamination increases if your water source is near a farming area, especially corn or sorghum crops where atrazine is heavily used.
- Local outbreaks of illness. If there are known issues in your community with diseases linked to atrazine exposure, such as reproductive issues or certain cancers, it could be a sign of contamination in the local water supply.
- Reported spills or misuse. There’s a heightened risk of water contamination if there are reports of atrazine spills or misuse in your area.
How To Detect Atrazine In Drinking Water
If you are located in an affected area or notice any of the symptoms listed in the health effects section above, you need to test your home’s water for atrazine contamination. The only method to detect atrazine in your drinking water with certainty is to use a certified lab test that scans for atrazine and related herbicides.
Certified Lab Test
The most accurate way to detect atrazine in drinking water is to get your water tested by a certified laboratory. These labs use sophisticated equipment and procedures that can accurately measure the levels of harmful contaminants.
I recommend the Freshnss Labs ultimate water test kit that scans for harmful pesticides and herbicides, including atrazine. The kit includes everything you need to properly collect a water sample and send it to a certified lab to be analyzed by a professional. Within three business days you will receive a report with the exact levels detected, any health or plumbing alerts, and the best treatment methods based on your test data.
Pesticide DIY Test Strips
Consider using pesticide test strips specifically designed to detect atrazine and other synthetic organic compounds for a less costly option. These are relatively simple to use: you simply dip the strip into a water sample and wait for it to change color, indicating the presence of atrazine.
While these strips might be less accurate and sensitive than lab testing, they can provide a quick and convenient way to check for high levels of atrazine – although it will not provide the exact amounts.
Recommended Water Treatment To Remove Atrazine in Water Supply
The recommended water treatment methods to remove atrazine from drinking water are reverse osmosis and granular activated carbon. The long-term effectiveness will depend on your water quality and atrazine concentration.
Reverse osmosis is an effective water treatment process that uses a semipermeable membrane to remove contaminants, including up to 99.9% atrazine. The water is forced through the membrane, which traps and filters out the atrazine molecules, ensuring clean and safe drinking water.
RO systems are commonly used in households and can provide a reliable method for removing atrazine and other pollutants.
Granular Activated Carbon
Another effective method for removing atrazine from drinking water is granular activated carbon filters. These filters can adsorb and trap atrazine molecules, reducing their concentration in the water.
GAC filters are commonly employed in water treatment systems, especially in areas with agricultural regions where atrazine use is prevalent.
By incorporating GAC filters, water systems can ensure the quality and safety of public drinking water supplies, safeguarding human populations from potential health risks associated with atrazine exposure.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is atrazine in bottled water?
Yes, atrazine can be found in bottled water. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the quality of bottled water and has set a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 3 parts per billion (ppb) for atrazine, occasional instances of bottled water recalls due to atrazine contamination have occurred in the past.
Is atrazine in tap water?
In areas where atrazine is heavily used in agriculture or where there is a high risk of runoff and leaching, atrazine can potentially be detected in tap water. However, water treatment processes can effectively remove or reduce atrazine levels in drinking water.
Do Water filters filter out atrazine?
Certain water filters, such as activated carbon filters or reverse osmosis systems, effectively filter out atrazine from water. Activated carbon filters, including granular activated carbon (GAC) filters, can adsorb and trap atrazine molecules, while reverse osmosis (RO) systems utilize a semipermeable membrane to remove contaminants, including atrazine.
Can there be atrazine in well water?
Yes, atrazine can be present in well water, particularly in areas with intensive agricultural activities. Runoff, leaching, and contamination of groundwater sources can lead to atrazine presence in well water.