WASHINGTON— The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that the endocrine-disrupting pesticide atrazine will be banned in Hawaii and in the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the North Mariana Islands.
Use of the cancer-linked pesticide, which is banned across much of the world, will also be prohibited along U.S. roadsides and on conifers on public and private lands, including forests and Christmas tree farms.
The pesticide’s largest manufacturer, Syngenta, agreed to the prohibitions in the wake of a legal agreement between the EPA and the Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network North America. The agreement also requires the agency to complete an analysis of atrazine’s impacts on the nation’s endangered species.
“This is amazing news for the people of Hawaii and all of our fragile flora, fauna and marine species, including the highly endangered Hawaiian monk seal,” said Maxx Phillips, Hawaii director at the Center. “Atrazine is toxic to coral reefs and endangered species. It should have never been sprayed here in the first place. With this win, we can now focus on recovering our native and endangered species from other threats.”
In 2012, 77,000 pounds of atrazine were used in the state of Hawaii. Atrazine metabolites were the most commonly detected pesticide contaminants in surface water samples on Kauai and Oahu in 2016 and 2017, present in two-thirds of all water samples collected by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Research has linked atrazine to birth defects and cancer in people, and even miniscule doses can chemically castrate frogs.
It has been banned or is being phased out in more than 35 countries but is the second-most commonly used herbicide in the United States.
A 2009 survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that atrazine was the third-most highly used herbicide on Christmas tree farms, accounting for more than 22,000 pounds each year in just six surveyed states. In Oregon atrazine use on forest lands has generated deep concern among communities that fear for their health and the health of aquatic animals.
“This is a massive victory for the people exposed to this dangerous endocrine disruptor simply because they live near fields or forests sprayed with it,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center. “The last thing anyone imagines, when they live near a forest or bring a Christmas tree home to their living room, is that they’re signing up for atrazine exposure. Now they won’t have to, and neither will the salmon, frogs and fish.”
The EPA’s agreement with conservation groups to assess atrazine’s harm to endangered species came after an earlier “preliminary risk assessment” found that the amount of the pesticide released into the environment in the United States is likely to be harming most species of protected plants and animals, including mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles.
Syngenta’s decision to voluntarily agree to prohibitions on atrazine comes as a 2021 deadline approaches by which the EPA must complete an analysis of the pesticide’s impacts on endangered species, as required by the agreement with the two conservation groups.
Prohibitions were also announced for a similar herbicide, simazine, in the same states and on forests and roadsides. But although simazine poses the same toxic threats to people and wildlife as atrazine, it will still be allowed for use on Christmas trees, an action the Center strongly opposes and will continue to fight.