Albion Monitor /News

Midwestern Tap Water Contaminated by Ag Chemicals

EPA standards assume that this simultaneous exposure does not occur

Tap water in cities across the U.S. Corn Belt, in Louisiana, and in Maryland, is contaminated with agricultural weed killers, according to a study released by an environmental research organization.

Environmental Working Group (EWG), a not-for-profit organization, found widespread contamination in two-thirds of the cities tested, and tap water contained between four and nine pesticides or pesticide by-products. Current EPA drinking water standards are set one chemical at a time and assume that this simultaneous exposure does not occur.

The pesticides included two probable human carcinogens, five possible human carcinogens, one pesticide responsible for birth defects, and four pesticides that disrupt the hormone or endocrine system.

The study, Weed Killers by the Glass, also estimates that 45,000 infants in 29 cities drank infant formula reconstituted with tap water contaminated with weed killers during the six-week study period. Drinking water standards do not account for the vulnerability of infants to toxic chemicals such as the weed killers found in our tests. Standards also fail to account for the high volume of water young children drink relative to adults.

Herbicides were used on 98 percent of all corn acres

Although herbicide users and manufacturers frequently claim that use has decreased or remained stable, according to the group, the report claims most recent USDA survey data indicates otherwise. In 1994, Midwestern corn growers used over 142,000,000 pounds of the triazine herbicides (atrazine, cyanazine, simazine) or acetanilide herbicides (alachlor, metolachlor, acetochlor). Herbicides were used on 98 percent of all corn acres (62,500,000 acres).

EWG notes that because of an outdated methodology used to set drinking water standards for these chemicals, they allow 10 to 30 times greater cancer risks than EPA's Office of Pesticides allows for the same pesticides in food Standards do not take the risk of exposure to multiple pesticides or pesticide metabolites into account.

EPA's Lifetime Health Advisory level for the herbicide cyanazine was exceeded at least once in 62 percent with a total population of 4.48 million people. In one sample, cyanazine was 34 times the EPA standard.

In November 1994, the EPA announced it was beginning a special regulatory review of the triazine herbicides. The announcement came only weeks after the agency denied a request by Ciba, the manufacturer of atrazine, to allow seven times more atrazine in drinking water.

Last month the EPA and Dupont Agrichemical Company announced the phase-out and ultimate ban of the triazine herbicide cyanazine. Under the agreement, existing stocks of the weed killer will be allowed to be used through Dec. 31, 2002.

The report also noted several efforts in Congress to roll back protection of drinking water. The FY 1996 appropriations bill passed by the House of Representatives, for example, would delay or undermine much of EPA's ability to remove weed killers from tap water.

Senator Dirk Kempthorne (R-ID) has circulated draft legislation supported by water utilities that will relax health standards and monitoring requirements for chemicals in drinking water, including these herbicides. Representative Thomas Bliley (R-VA) the chairman of the House Commerce Committee, is expected to introduce similar legislation to weaken the Safe Drinking Water Act in the House of Representatives.

On June 19, the House Agriculture Committee passed HR 1627, a sweeping rollback of current pesticide laws supported by the pesticide and agriculture industry, as well as sellers of fruit and vegetables.

Albion Monitor September 2, 1995 (

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