Avoid the Herbicide Atrazine

Avoid the Herbicide Atrazine

March 29, 2023

Atrazine is an herbicide that kills both broadleaf and grassy weeds. It is the second most widely used herbicide in the United States.

Atrazine is most widely used on corn in the U.S., especially in the Midwest, but it’s also used on crops like sugarcane, pasture grasses, and winter wheat. Non-agricultural uses include residential lawns, golf courses, tree farms, recreational areas, right-of-ways, and industrial areas.

Once in the environment, atrazine is slow to break down. As a result, it is frequently detected in streams, rivers, lakes and drinking water, particularly in the Midwest. Contamination is usually highest in agricultural areas in the spring, when atrazine use peaks and large amounts run off into surface water during rains.

Atrazine has been shown to disrupt the endocrine system. It has also been linked to miscarriage, developmental effects and birth defects, sexual changes, reproductive abnormalities, weakened immune systems, and declining amphibian populations. Evidence suggests a relationship between atrazine and ovarian, breast, prostate and thyroid cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and hairy-cell leukemia.

Unless you’re a farm worker or live on a farm, most people are exposed to atrazine via drinking water and sprayed surfaces like lawns and fields. (Atrazine can persist in soil for up to a year.) Low levels have also been detected in Midwestern household dust.

That said, atrazine exposure does not generally occur through food. It’s usually only an issue in the regions where it’s used. To lessen atrazine exposure, try these strategies:

  • Don’t use pesticides in or around your home. Instead, use Integrated Pest Management techniques.

  • Avoid tracking pesticides into the house by having everyone remove their shoes at the door.

  • Vacuum carpets, mop floors, and damp-wipe dusty surfaces weekly, especially if you have small children who spend time on the floor.

  • Have your water tested in the spring. If atrazine is found, filter your water accordingly.

  • Feed infants breast milk. If you use formula, mix it with purified or filtered water.

  • Don’t let your kids play, dig or swim near or in fields that have been sprayed.