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HomeMike's CommentaryEPA Takes Unscientific Aim at Atrazine

EPA Takes Unscientific Aim at Atrazine

July 15, 2022 – Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington DC for the summer meetings of the National Corn Growers Association (and to announce the start of a new segment, The Monthly Grind, coming the first Wednesday of each month!). Lots of topics were under discussion, from ethanol to international trade and plenty of meetings with legislators and regulators on the Hill.

One issue that received a full court press from many of the members in attendance was the tightening of acceptable federal standards for atrazine in water. Atrazine is a very common pre-emergence herbicide that targets some species of broadleaf weeds; and it has widespread use in corn, sorghum, and sugarcane crops here in the US and globally. The chemistry has been around since 1958, but studies over the last twenty years have raised concern about the impact of atrazine as an endocrine disruptor in humans; though research by the US EPA, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, World Health Organization and others continue to find very few risks associated with atrazine.

Nonetheless, the EPA is pushing forward with a plan to lower the amount of atrazine in aquatic environments from the current 15 parts per billion to the much more strict 3.4 parts per billion. This level is called the Level of Concern, and, in theory, it’s established by a Scientific Advisory Panel which reads and reviews lots of research on the subject then selects the best studies to inform the EPA’s decision making. The frustration with this move by EPA is that it is in direct contravention of the most recent SAP on atrazine, which recommended the 15ppb, and there is concern in the agriculture industry that EPA is basing this determination on flawed science and non-reproducible studies.

On Wednesday’s AOA, I spoke with Greg Krissek, CEO of Kansas Corn Growers Association and Co-Chair of the Triazine Network, about the direction this EPA is headed, and it’s not a pretty picture. At the end of June, EPA announced they were reopening the final registration with this ultra-low LOC in place of 3.4ppb and the push is on to get EPA to commission another SAP. As Greg explained, the advantage of an SAP is that more parties are brought in to oversee the scientific modeling that goes into these decisions. As atrazine has been a crucial component to assist corn growers in moving to no-till or minimum-till farming practices, this (unnecessary) tightening of the screws on atrazine may well reduce the ability of some farmers to maintain those practices and we could see usage requirements shift throughout much of the corn belt.

One positive of government actions like this one is that they don’t tend to move very quickly, which gives industry and farmers time to highlight how valuable this chemistry is and to put pressure on the EPA to reexamine their assessment. Without pushback, EPA’s changes could be in effect by 2023, but with pressure from interested parties and likely some action in the courts, hopefully this measure can be put to bed.

  • Mike Pearson

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