Fisheries management

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The debate over the use of atrazine heated up this past summer when the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in an attempt to restrict the use of this common herbicide used by U.S. corn farmers to control weeds in their fields.

In the lawsuit filed by the NRDC, the environmental group contends that the EPA approved the use of atrazine without properly considering its impact on endangered species. The lawsuit also alleges that the federal agency did not consult with other agencies charged with protecting those species prior to approval.

A year ago, the NRDC petitioned the EPA to take the chemical off the market, expressing concerns about sea turtles in Chesapeake Bay, salamanders in Texas, mussels in Alabama, and fish in the Midwest.

Following that petition, Swiss-based Syngenta, the leading manufacturer of atrazine, said the NRDC was needlessly alarming the public with exaggerated claims about cancer risk and attempting to discredit the EPA's process for reviewing herbicides and pesticides.

Since then, though, EPA scientists have been reviewing the use of atrazine to determine all the possible consequences from its runoff into lakes and streams and seepage into groundwater and wells. Critics charge that the pesticide likely is causing human health problems and almost certainly is a contributing factor to abnormalities in frogs and other amphibians.

"EPA knows that rivers and streams across the country are so contaminated with atrazine that sea turtles and other endangered species are at risk, but the agency is sitting on its hands," said Aaron Colangelo, an NRDC attorney.
The EPA will probably complete its review of the risks of atrazine and respond to the NRDC's petition and lawsuit sometime this fall.

"A potential outcome of this kind of review is the cancellation of a pesticide," said an EPA spokesman.