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Report: Growing Season Means Pesticide Spikes in NC Drinking Water

May 17, 2010

MONROE, N.C. - The growing season means the battle against weeds is on, both for crops and in home yards and gardens. Atrazine, a common pesticide used to keep those weeds at bay, is receiving a special safety review from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because of studies showing possible connections to health problems, including cancer. The company that manufactures the pesticide, Syngenta, says it has been through years of safety testing and calls the EPA review a "waste of taxpayer money."

However, a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) documents that atrazine contamination of drinking water systems is widespread. Although it is worst in the Midwest, it's a problem in North Carolina, too.

Toxicologist and molecular biologist Jennifer Sass with NRDC describes the chemical as a hormone disruptor that may cause the most damage to immune and reproductive systems early in life.

"There's now a substantial amount of scientific proof that when exposure occurs at the same time as these critical systems are developing, low-dose exposures can cause irreparable harm."

Toxic Free NC, a group that watchdogs pesticide pollution, reports that more than 600,000 pounds of atrazine are applied to cornfields in the state each year. The European Union has banned atrazine because of widespread groundwater contamination.

NRDC report co-author Mae Wu calls for more monitoring of drinking water systems, with more frequent testing during times of the year when pesticides are heavily applied. And she has advice on how to make sure home drinking water is safe.

"We suggest using a home water filter - like the kind that might be attached to a faucet, certified ANSI standard 53 - to remove atrazine."

The full report, "Atrazine: Still Poisoning the Well," is available at www.nrdc.org.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - NC