P A N U P S
Pesticide Action Network
Study Reveals Widespread Herbicide-Contamination of U.S.
November 11, 1994
A new report released by the Environmental Working Group
(EWG) and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) states
that more than 14 million people in the U.S. routinely drink
water that is contaminated with carcinogenic herbicides. The
report, entitled "Tap Water Blues," investigates the Midwest,
Louisiana, and the Chesapeake Bay regions for contamination
by five of the most commonly used herbicides in the United
States.* The study finds contamination, often by two or more
of the herbicides, in the drinking water of all three
regions. In addition, at least 90% of all U.S. municipal
water treatment facilities lack the equipment to remove these
The weed killers found at the highest levels in drinking
water are known as the triazine herbicides. Laboratory
studies have linked the hericides with health problems
including developmental abnormalities, birth defects, genetic
mutations, breast cancer and cancers of other reproductive
In response, the Environmental Working Group and Physicians
for Social Responsibility demand that the U.S. Department of
Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) phase out three of the most dangerous herbicides --
atrazine, cyanizine and simazine -- within two years.
Further, they urge that water utilities begin weekly
monitoring of drinking water for all five herbicides during
growing-season months (May-August), when farm chemical use
peaks in these regions. Dr. David Rall of PSR explains that
"pregnant women and families with infants and young children
would be prudent to drink bottled water during peak months
until the government takes action to protect them."
Herbicide pollution is particularly extensive in the Midwest,
where corn and soybean growers apply about 150 million pounds
of the five herbicides annually. According to Richard Wiles
of the Environmental Working Group, "the drinking water in
nearly every midwestern city south of Chicago is contaminated
with agricultural weed killers."
The report analyzes results of tests on 20,000 samples taken
from treated tap water and from rivers and reservoirs that
are drinking water sources. The EWG and PSR argue that
although the EPA has standards for allowable concentrations
of herbicides in drinking water, they are inadequate for
protecting the public from the herbicides examined in the
joint report. In fact, there is no enforceable standard at
all for cyanazine, the most toxic of the five pesticides.
According to the authors, the standards that do exist:
-- do not protect infants and young children, who drink more
water per pound than adults and are more vulnerable because
they are still growing.
-- do not consider the lifetime effects of drinking several
chemicals combined in one water source; rather, they focus on
only one chemical at a time.
-- do not account for the break-down products of the
herbicides, potentially hazardous chemicals that often
increase through conventional water treatment.
-- ignore seasonal fluctuations in contamination, such as
during summer months when agricultural runoff is at a peak.
The Dr. David Rall of PSR notes the gravity of this situation
in light of our ignorance of the connections between toxic
chemicals and public health: "While scientists have long
studied links between exposure to toxins and cancer, they
have only recently begun to pay attention to endocrine,
immune system, reproductive or developmental effects of
toxins, especially on children."
* Herbicides studied in "Tap Water Blues" are alachlor,
metolachlor, atrazine, cyanizine and simazine.
Sources: "Tap Water Blues: Herbicides in Drinking Water" by
R. Wiles, B. Cohen, C. Campbell, S. Elderkin; EWG/PSR Press
Release, Oct. 18, 1994; Statement of Richard Wiles,
Environmental Working Group, Oct. 18, 1994; Statement of Dr.
David Rall, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Oct. 18,
Contact: Environmental Working Group, 1718 Connecticut
Avenue, NW, Suite 600, Washington DC 20009; phone (202) 667-
6982; fax (202) 232 2592; email firstname.lastname@example.org. org. Physicians
for Social Responsibility, 1000 16th Street NW, Suite 810,
Washington DC 20036; phone (202) 898-0150; fax (202) 898-
Copies of the report are available from the Environmental
Working Group for US$40 plus US$3 shipping.
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