Weed killer levels low in Lawrence County water, but higher in surrounding areas

Published 10:15 am Thursday, September 3, 2009

IRONTON —Concentrations of a popular herbicide continue to remain low in Lawrence County drinking water despite recent monitoring that shows an unhealthy dilution of the weed killer in the watersheds and drinking water of nearby counties.

The monitoring, conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency and released in a recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, shows a potentially unhealthy spike of the herbicide Atrazine in the drinking and surface water of Ohio and other Midwestern states during the past five years.

Atrazine is a commercially-available, organic compound used to stop growth of broadleaf and grassy weeds in major crops, primarily corn.

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It is also the most widely used herbicide in tillage systems and on lawns and golf courses. More than 76 millions pounds of Atrazine are used annually in the United States.

The report indicated that approximately 75 percent of stream water and 40 percent of all groundwater samples from agricultural areas tested in the study contained traces of Atrazine.

More than 33 million Americans have been exposed to Atrazine through their drinking water systems, the report claimed.

In recent years, the effects of the common herbicide on non-target species like humans and amphibians have put Atrazine under clouds of controversy.

Researchers have discovered that prolonged exposure and intake of Atrazine have led to massive decreases of testosterone in male frogs, low sperm levels in male humans and birth defects in pregnant women.

In 2004, the European Union banned the herbicide due to its persistent groundwater contamination.

In its report, the NRDC alleges the large increases in concentration poses risks to humans and the environment saying many areas are well over the safe average level of three-parts-per-billion.

A part-per-billion is equivalent of one drop of chemical diluted into 250 drums of water.

Contamination was most severe in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, and Nebraska.

In Ohio, contamination above the EPA allowable three-parts-per-billion were found in nearby Brown and Adams counties with the Deer Creek watershed, which extends into Scioto County, having levels of Atrazine between 9.3 and 25 parts-per-billion.

According to the report, Ohio followed only Nebraska, Kansas, Kentucky, and Maryland as the states that had the highest percentage of its population currently exposed to Atrazine in its drinking water.

The environmental advocacy group also says the EPA has done inadequate testing and has been lax in its regulation of Atrazine since the government agency allowed the re-registration of the herbicide in 2006.

“Evidence shows Atrazine contamination to be a widespread and dangerous problem that has not been communicated to the people most at risk,” said Jennifer Sass, PhD, NRDC senior scientist and an author of the report. “(The) EPA is ignoring some very high concentrations of this pesticide in water that people are drinking and using every day. This exposure could have a considerable impact on reproductive health. Scientific research has tied this chemical to some ghastly impacts on wildlife and raises red flags for possible human impacts.”

Locally, Ironton Water Superintendent Mark White said tests for the weed killer and other “secondary contaminants” are done annually.

“We are required to test for it between April 1 and June 30,” said White who explained the samples are sent off to a laboratory that specializes in Atrazine testing.

To reduce possible Atrazine levels in all types of drinking water, the agency recommends using faucet or pitcher water filters.