- WASHINGTON, DC (ENS)
- Formula fed infants in 796 Midwestern communities are exposed to high
levels of the toxic weed killer atrazine, the Washington based Environmental
Working Group (EWG) has found. The herbicide contaminates tap water in
Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio, creating
cancer risks up to 20 times higher than federally mandated limits.
- In a report released Wednesday, EWG details measurements
of atrazine up to 14 times the legally allowed annual average in some communities.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has underestimated the health
risks that atrazine and other contaminants pose to infants drinking formula
mixed with tap water by a factor of 15, according to the study.
- Atrazine, manufactured by Switzerland based Novartis,
is the most heavily used herbicide in the United States. It is commonly
applied by corn farmers in the Midwest to attack weeds at planting time.
Rains can wash the chemical into waterways, where it makes its way into
public drinking water supplies.
- Parents may be unintentionally feeding their babies a
toxic weed killer. (Photo courtesy Bottle Bundle) Atrazine is a known carcinogen
that has been linked to several forms of cancer in rats, including uterine
and mammary cancers.
- The EPA has set maximum safe levels of atrazine at three
parts per billion (ppb). Local water systems test for the chemical a minimum
of four times a year - once each quarter. Atrazine levels must average
less than three ppb over those four samples.
- Many water utilities have adopted costly treatments to
filter atrazine from water supplies, but it is difficult and prohibitively
expensive to completely remove all traces of atrazine.
- In its report, the Environmental Working Group contends
that the EPA made an incorrect assumption about the exposure possible for
infants. EPA safety standards assume that a bottle feeding newborn drinks
the same amount of tap water per pound of body weight as an adult. EWG,s
study shows that bottle fed infants may actually drink the adult equivalent
of three and a half gallons of tap water a day.
- In 796 Midwestern communities tested by EWG, 10.4 million
people are drinking tap water contaminated with atrazine. By age one, the
average bottle fed infant in those towns receives over 26 percent of his
or her lifetime allowable dose of atrazine, the study says.
- In some cities, the situation is much worse. In Kansas
City, Kansas, these infants can get their entire legal lifetime dose of
atrazine by about eight months of age. In 13 Midwestern towns, infants
can exceed their allowable lifetime cancer risk through exposure to atrazine
within the first four months of life.
- Manufacturers of infant formula remove atrazine and other
contaminants from the water used to make premixed, ready to feed formula.
Expensive advanced filtration and separation processes purify the water
in these products, making them considerably safer for infants than formula
reconstituted with tap water.
- The EPA and agricultural industry representatives say
the study is merely a scare tactic, and that actual risks from atrazine
are much lower than the EWG report states. But other federal agencies agree
that the EPA made mistakes in calculating risks for children and infants.
- In February, the Office of Children,s Health Protection
Advisory Committee, a federal agency charged with studying risks to children,
declared that the EPA,s atrazine regulations do not sufficiently protect
children. In a report published in the Federal Register, the committee
stated, "When EPA established the tolerances and 1991 drinking water
standards for atrazine, children,s differential exposure was not considered
and children,s differential susceptibility was not fully evaluated."
- Under the Food Quality Protection Act, the EPA must revise
its health standards for atrazine and other high risk pesticides by August
3, 1999. Yet earlier this year, the EPA announced that new regulatory limits
for atrazine in tap water will not be proposed until 2001. Implementation
of new rules could come much later.
- In a statement, the EPA said it is studying exposure
to atrazine as part of a pesticide review program and plans to complete
its work by next summer. Results of that review will determine whether
tighter drinking water standards are needed. "We are on schedule to
meet all deadlines for reviewing pesticides under the new law," the
- The Environmental Working Group wants faster action.
"This product is a serious threat to infants' health," said report
author Jane Houlihan of EWG. "The government should be taking decisive
action on it next week."
- In Switzerland, where atrazine is manufactured, the safe
water standards are 30 times more stringent than those in the U.S.
- Government mandated safe levels in Swiss water systems
require that no single test reveal more than 0.1 ppb of atrazine. The Swiss
government cracked down on atrazine in 1984, before the U.S. government
had begun to require water testing for the chemical. Other European countries
have banned the chemical altogether.
- In 1997, the EPA added atrazine to its list of the most
toxic chemicals pesticides and herbicides in current use. EWG is calling
on the U.S. government to ban atrazine, and placed a full page ad in Tuesday
editions of "The New York Times" calling on Vice President Al
Gore to support a ban.
- "Water utilities are working hard and spending millions
to lower the level of this toxic chemical in tap water. Why should they
and their customers pay for the mess created by a multi-billion dollar
foreign company? Atrazine should be banned by the EPA. It shouldn't be
in our water to begin with," said EWG president Ken Cook.
- The Environmental Working Group's staff of 18 researchers,
computer experts and writers produce reports and articles and provide technical
assistance and the development of computer databases and Internet resources
for public interest groups and concerned citizens who are campaigning to
protect the environment.The EWG report, "Into the Mouths of Babes,"
along with state reports on the risks from atrazine in individual towns,
are available on line at: <http://www.ewg.org/pub/home/reports/mouthsofbabes/mouthsofbabes.html