The herbicide atrazine is one of the most widely used pesticides in the United States, primarily for controlling weeds in corn, sorghum, and sugarcane crops. Though atrazine was banned in the European Union over concerns about groundwater contamination, it is still widely used in the US.
Recent research has raised alarms about the potential health effects of atrazine. Studies have linked atrazine exposure to increased risks of birth defects, reproductive cancers, and endocrine disruption. Atrazine is an endocrine disrupting chemical that can interfere with hormones in the body even at very low levels of exposure.
While the health effects of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, have received a lot of public attention, some scientists argue that atrazine may be even more harmful. Atrazine has been found to be persistent in both food and water supplies. Testing has detected atrazine contamination in a number of produce items.
This article will examine the top 8 foods that atrazine is most commonly sprayed on and discuss the potential health implications of dietary exposure to this prevalent pesticide. We’ll also provide tips for reducing your exposure and examine whether regulatory standards for atrazine are strict enough to protect public health.
Given its widespread use and the troubling indications that atrazine is not as safe as previously assumed, it’s important to be aware of how this pesticide could be impacting our health. Informing consumers about foods most likely to contain atrazine residues can help people make educated choices about limiting pesticide exposures.
What Are The Risks Of Atrazine Exposure?
The popular herbicide atrazine has come under scrutiny in recent years as new research reveals previously unknown risks of exposure. Though banned in Europe, atrazine remains the second most used pesticide in America, applied to over 70 million acres of crops annually.
Studies now link even low levels of atrazine to increased cancer risk, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, ovarian, breast, and prostate cancers. Evidence also points to atrazine as a potential endocrine disruptor, associated with birth defects, genital malformations in amphibians, and reproductive issues in humans such as low birth weight and preterm delivery.
Additionally, studies indicate atrazine may hamper immune function, making people more prone to illnesses. While the EPA’s drinking water standard for atrazine is 3 parts per billion, some studies detect health effects at levels as low as 0.1 ppb, suggesting current regulations do not adequately protect human health.
The persistence of atrazine in soil and water results in continued exposure risks even when use is discontinued. Given the mounting evidence of harm caused by this chemical, there are growing calls for more stringent restrictions on atrazine to safeguard public health from its newly-discovered dangers.
Tighter oversight and limits are warranted for this pesticide in light of the troubling health impacts coming to light.
8 Foods Containing Atrazine Residue
- Catfish – Atrazine has been detected in catfish sampled from contaminated lakes and rivers. A study by the U.S. Geological Survey found measurable levels of atrazine residues in catfish from the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio river basins.
- Watermelon – Testing by the USDA found detectable levels of atrazine in over 20% of watermelon samples.
- Green Onions – Green onions have tested positive for atrazine.
- Cucumbers – 1/4 of cucumber samples taken contained atrazine residues in USDA testing over the years.
- Corn – Since atrazine is heavily used on corn crops, corn products are a major source of exposure. Testing finds atrazine in 90% of corn samples.
- Soybeans – Atrazine is applied to soybeans, mainly before planting. USDA tests detect atrazine in 10-15% of soybean samples.
- Sugarcane – Atrazine is a common herbicide used in sugarcane cultivation. Sugarcane extracts and molasses may contain atrazine residues as a result.
- Sorghum – Sorghum is another major crop treated with atrazine, so residues are frequently detected in sorghum grains. Over 10% of sorghum samples contain atrazine.
Heavily Contaminated Water Supply
Atrazine, one of the most heavily used herbicides in the United States, has resulted in widespread contamination of drinking water sources, including tap water, bottled water, and private well water.
Numerous studies by federal and state agencies have detected atrazine in the vast majority of surface and ground water tested in major agricultural regions. Testing by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) found atrazine in over 75% of water samples from streams and rivers in farming areas of the Midwest.
Concentrations regularly exceeded the federal limit of 3 parts per billion. USGS data also shows atrazine in around 40% of groundwater samples drawn from aquifers and wells in agricultural zones.
These high levels of surface and groundwater contamination translate into atrazine in finished tap water provided to millions of Americans. Testing of municipal drinking water in Ohio, Illinois, Kansas, Indiana and other midwestern states dependent on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers has repeatedly found atrazine present in 30-60% of samples.
Levels sometimes spike above federal limits. One study in Ohio recorded atrazine concentrations up to 19 parts per billion in tap water during spring planting season when farm runoff spikes.
Contamination is also a problem in bottled water sources. The Natural Resources Defense Council compiled testing data showing 32 different pesticides, including atrazine, in a variety of bottled water brands. Roughly 16% of bottled water samples contained measurable atrazine levels, sometimes at concentrations up to 8 times the allowable limit in tap water.
Private well water drawn from aquifers in heavy use agricultural zones also frequently shows atrazine contamination. Testing in Iowa, Vermont and other major farming states has revealed concentrations over 1,000 times the federal limit in some wells located near treated fields.
In summary, the widespread agricultural use of atrazine has resulted in persistent contamination of tap water, bottled water, and private well water supplies across large farming regions of the country, providing a ubiquitous source of exposure through drinking water.
Reducing Your Exposure To Atrazine Residues
- Choose organic produce whenever possible. Organic standards prohibit the use of atrazine, so organic foods have virtually zero atrazine contamination.
- Shop from local farmers markets when you can to get produce grown without pesticide use. Ask the grower about their pest management practices.
- Wash all produce thoroughly before eating, even organic produce. Washing helps remove some pesticide residues from surfaces.
- Avoid canned foods made with ingredients likely treated with atrazine, like corn, sorghum and sugarcane. Canning locks in pesticides.
- When possible, peel fruits and vegetables likely to have high residues, like apples, peaches, celery and cucumbers. Pesticides concentrate in peels.
- If your tap water contains atrazine, consider installing a reverse osmosis or activated carbon filtration system to remove residues.
- Drink bottled water that has been purified by distillation or carbon filtration to remove possible atrazine contamination.
- Test your private well annually if you live in a major agricultural region to check for atrazine levels.
In general, reducing consumption of corn, sorghum and sugarcane products like high fructose corn syrup, along with taking care when selecting produce and drinking water, can help minimize exposure to this potentially hazardous pesticide.
How to Remove Pesticides and Herbicides from the Body
Clean, filtered water is imperative for good health. Invest in a reverse osmosis filter for your home.
Exercise is important for your health. You will help the lymph to flow better in your body, improving your immune response, and help the toxins to move out through your sweat. Exercise will reduce your stress and improve your overall health as well.
If you can get your exercise out in the sun, all the better. The sun gives your body vitamin D, which assists your immune system. It is good for your mood, too.
- Dietary Additions
Give your body quality fuel to deal with chemical assaults. Your body needs whole foods that have not been processed. Reduce the amounts of sugar, white flour and pre-packaged foods that you eat. Choose organic foods when they fit the budget. Bring a healthy lunch to work and avoid frequent fast food consumption.
- Detox your Liver
Toxins and chemicals accumulate in your liver. Herbs like Milk Thistle and Dandelion can help your body to move those chemicals out of the liver. Steep in tea and drink daily for 7 days.
- Detox your Blood
Turmeric Root and Burdock Root are both blood purifying herbs. These can be taken in capsules or as teas. Turmeric is commonly mixed in milk and taken daily for a multitude of health benefits.
- Activated Charcoal Powder
Activated Charcoal Powder will remove many toxins from your body. It can be taken in capsules or the powder can be mixed in water. You can take charcoal baths to remove toxins. Charcoal poultices over the liver helps remove poisons from the liver. If you are regularly exposed to pesticides, you can take a bit of charcoal each day. One capsule or tablet can be taken away from meals and medications. If you know that you have had a recent and significant exposure to a toxin, for example, if your neighborhood has been sprayed with chemicals, take an activated charcoal tablet with a glass of water twice a day for a couple of weeks. Take charcoal away from food and medications, and always with plenty of water to avoid constipation.
- Clay Baths
Baths with medicinal clays will draw poisons out of the skin and into the clay. Check Out This Bentonite Clay From Starwest Botanicals
Pesticide Poisoning and Pets
Pets are at particular risk for certain types of pesticide poisoning. Pet’s faces and bodies can have a lot of direct contact with pesticides if their outdoor areas are regularly sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Toxins will absorb right through the skin.
Tumors and cancers are an increasing problem for pets and environmental toxins are a likely cause. The natural remedies above can be used for your pets as well. The clay bath would be the one method above that would probably not be very practical for most pets!
Current Regulatory Standards
There is ongoing debate about whether current regulatory standards for atrazine in food and water are sufficiently protective of public health. Here are some key considerations:
- The EPA’s legal limit for atrazine in drinking water is 3 parts per billion. Some health advocates argue this limit is too lax, as studies find endocrine effects at much lower doses.
- The European Union banned atrazine in 2004 due to concerns about groundwater contamination and potential health impacts. The US continues to permit its use.
- USDA pesticide residue standards focus on average levels in foods rather than peak concentrations. Produce can be sold with atrazine spikes much higher than average.
- There are no maximum residue limits for many foods likely to contain atrazine, including sugarcane, sorghum and corn. Residue limits only exist for a limited number of produce items.
- Critics argue testing underestimates true dietary exposures by not adequately capturing effects like pesticide absorption into crops. The FDA only tests raw produce, not finished foods.
- Exposures are not regulated for potentially vulnerable groups like infants and children, who may be impacted by lower concentrations than adults.
- Monitoring violations are common – one study found 60% of utilities had excessive atrazine in finished tap water at least once from 1993 to 2007.
Overall, while the EPA and USDA maintain current regulatory limits are protective, many public health experts contend that standards are too permissive, outdated, and do not account for more recent evidence on low-dose effects and peak exposures. Thus, strengthening atrazine regulations would better protect the general public.
The widespread use of the herbicide atrazine on major crops like corn, sorghum, and sugarcane has led to concerning levels of contamination in both the food supply and drinking water sources across agricultural regions of the United States.
Research shows that consumption of produce, grains, and water contaminated with atrazine exposes millions of Americans to a pesticide that is associated with increased risks of cancer, birth defects, and endocrine disruption even at very low doses. These exposures are especially hazardous for vulnerable groups like children.
While the EPA maintains that current regulatory standards are adequate, a growing number of health experts contend these limits do not sufficiently protect the public from the adverse effects of persistent, low-dose atrazine exposure. Strengthening of federal residue limits, more comprehensive monitoring of both foods and water supplies, and promoting organic agriculture practices that avoid atrazine entirely are important steps needed to reduce exposures and protect human health.
In the meantime, consumers should take measures to educate themselves about produce and water sources most likely to harbor atrazine residues and take action to minimize dietary and drinking water exposures for themselves and their families. Reducing reliance on corn, sorghum, and sugarcane products, choosing organic foods, filtering drinking water, and following other exposure reduction tips can help limit contact with this potentially hazardous pesticide.