Atrazine Contamination and Injury Information
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors| Last reviewed December 05, 2016
Atrazine is a solid, white crystalline organic compound used as herbicide for grassy and broadleaf weeds. It's often used on farms that grow corn, sugarcane, pineapples, and evergreen trees. Atrazine is applied to the soil surface either before crops have emerged from the ground or immediately after. Unfortunately, Atrazine contamination has been found in drinking water systems and watersheds throughout the United States, but particularly in the Midwest and southern states.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the quality of drinking water. The agency has determined that drinking water that contains no more than three parts per billion (ppb) of atrazine is safe for human consumption. Although the EPA standard is based on the amount of atrazine that can be in drinking water without causing adverse health risks, recent studies have suggested that any amount of atrazine could cause health problems.
How Atrazine Contamination Occurs
Since the herbicide is most often used on crops, atrazine contamination is more frequently found in agricultural areas rather than urban ones. Atrazine contamination in drinking water can occur when runoff from crops enters the waterways. When it rains, atrazine may be washed from the soil and enter surrounding bodies of water, like reservoirs, lakes, and streams. The herbicide can also migrate from the topsoil and enter deeper soil layers to reach the groundwater.
If atrazine doesn't run off into bodies of water or penetrate deeper soil layers, it is broken up by the soil or absorbed by plants. As a result, it's usually only present for one growing season. However, when atrazine is swept into waterways, it can remain there for years because the herbicide isn't easily broken down in bodies of water.
Health Risks Associated with Atrazine Contamination
In general, short-term exposure to low levels of atrazine usually won't cause health problems. However, long-term exposure to atrazine contamination in drinking water may result in damage to the kidneys, liver, heart, spleen, and eyes. Since most studies regarding the health effects of atrazine have been conducted on animals, the chemical's actual impact on humans is unclear.
Although there's no clear evidence that atrazine can cause cancer in humans, it is recognized as a potential human carcinogen because it's been known to cause tumors in mice. Atrazine has also been found to disrupt blood hormone levels in animals and affect their ability to reproduce. However, since lab animals and humans have biological differences, the effects of atrazine on the human reproductive system may be different.
Plaintiffs who have been injured after being exposed to atrazine in their drinking water may be able to sue the manufacturer under product liability law. Product liability law holds manufacturers liable for selling defective and unsafe products that harm consumers. If a lawsuit is successful, the plaintiff could recover damages for any medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering related to the injury.
Lawsuits have been filed against Syngenta, the manufacturer of atrazine. The lawsuits allege that atrazine exposure could potentially lead to reproductive problems and birth defects. The lawsuits also seek reimbursement from Syngenta for the cost of testing and cleaning up contaminated waterways. The majority of the lawsuits have settled. Syngenta has set aside more than 100 million dollars to compensate the affected communities.