What is Atrazine?
Atrazine is a systemic herbicide, commonly used to control broadleaf and grassy weeds in corn, rapeseed and low brush blueberries, and for general weed control. It was once used for algae control in ornamental ponds and aquariums. Trade names for this herbicide include AAtrex, Aktikon, Atranex, Bicep, Blazine, Cekuzina-T, Fogard, Gesaprim, Griffex, Maizina, Mebazine, Primaextra, Sutazine, and Vectal. Atrazine was first introduced in Canada in 1960 and was widely used for a number of years. Because of environmental concerns, its use is now half of that of 1983.
How does Atrazine enter our water?
Atrazine can enter the aquatic environment through runoff from treated fields, or from spillage or accidental discharge during production, packaging, storage, and waste disposal. In areas where atrazine is used extensively, there has been significant and persistent contamination of groundwater aquifers and surface water bodies such as streams, lakes and rivers. Atrazine (or its by-products) is one of the most frequently detected pesticides in surface and well water and contamination incidents have been reported in nearly all of Canada.
How does Atrazine affect human health?
Atrazine has the potential to cause health effects in people who are exposed to levels higher than recommended. Exposure to high levels in drinking water can cause nausea and dizziness. Studies in humans have shown some evidence for an association between atrazine and increased risk of ovarian cancer or lymphomas. However this information is considered inadequate to form any conclusions on whether atrazine is the cause. Studies in rats dosed with atrazine resulted in increases in mammary and uterine tumours, leukaemia and lymphomas. Based on the rat studies, atrazine has been classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans. Animal studies also show that atrazine can have an effect on hormones by acting on the pituitary gland.
How does Atrazine affect the aquatic environment?
Atrazine has shown itself to be toxic in a number of ways to freshwater fish, invertebrates, and especially aquatic plants.
What are the Atrazine guidelines?
The Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water has established a Guideline for Canadian Drinking Water Quality for atrazine and its by-products, as an Interim Maximum Acceptable Concentration of 5 micrograms per litre of drinking water.
The Canadian Water Quality Guideline for the Protection of Aquatic Life for atrazine is 1.8 micrograms per litre of water.
What can individuals do to help?
To help avoid atrazine from reaching our water supply:
- Use natural alternatives to chemical pesticides. Apply lawn and garden chemicals sparingly and always read and carefully follow label directions.
- Dispose of old and unused pesticides properly, not in storm sewers or drains. Use a hazardous waste disposal program, or get one going in the community.
- Limit the amount of impenetrable surfaces in the landscape to decrease pesticide runoff during storms. Permeable surfaces such as wood decks, bricks, and concrete lattice allow water to soak more slowly into the ground.
- Allow thick vegetation or buffer strips to grow along waterways to slow runoff and soak up pollutants. Trees, shrubs and ground cover will absorb up to 14 times more rainwater than a grass lawn.
- Get involved in the planning and zoning process in your community. It is where the decisions are made that shape the course of development and the future quality of our environment. For example, some communities have opted to go pesticide free.
- Get involved in expert clubs or agro-environmental clubs.