Syngenta AG, a Swiss-based company, has been at the center of a class-action lawsuit because hundreds of community water systems across the U.S. have allegedly been contaminated by the weed killer. For many years, communities across the country, in at least 45 states, have had their water supply contaminated by atrazine and were forced to filter out the poison to allow for safe consumption. This filtering cost millions of dollars.
What is Atrazine?
Atrazine, a product of Syngenta AG, is a weed killer used on corn by many farmers in the Midwest region of the U.S.
Since its introduction in 1958, atrazine has become the most widely used herbicide in the United States. It is the top-selling product for Syngenta, the largest chemical corporation in the world. Atrazine has become the most frequently detected contaminant of ground, surface, and drinking water in the mid western United States (U.S.), and is one of the most controversial “crop protectors” on the market.
Used initially to control the growth of annual broadleaf weeds on such row crops as corn and sugarcane, atrazine is now applied to commercial golf courses, industrial centers, lawns, and along roadsides. The European Union banned atrazine in 2003, citing it as a major contributor to water contamination.
Atrazine in the Environment
Atrazine is a chlorotriazine and its chemical properties make it prone to leaching and runoff. According to the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry (ATSDR), once atrazine is applied to the soil, it can remain there for days or months. It is usually broken down, however, within one growing season. Nonetheless, any atrazine that enters the ground water or surface waterways through run off or leaching can remain for a much longer time because the chemical is slow to breakdown in water. This is one reason why people living near agricultural fields oftentimes find atrazine in their drinking water. If atrazine enters the air, other reactive chemicals in the air can break it down—unless atrazine attaches to dust particles. In this case, breakdown is not expected. When this happens, the wind can carry atrazine-laden dust particles long distances from the original application area. Atrazine has been detected in rainwater more than 300 K.M from where it was applied.
Adverse health effects of Atrazine
Recent studies indicate that atrazine is an endocrine disruptor that interferes with hormone synthesis, secretion, receptor binding, activity or degradation. It may cause gonadal deformities, multiple testes, nonpigmented ovaries, hermaphrodites, and chemical castration.