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Community Water

Atrazine and Your Health

Atrazine is a widely used herbicide for control of broadleaf and grassy weeds. Atrazine is a chemical that may be found in some public or private drinking water supplies. It may cause health problems if found in amounts greater than the health standard set by EPA.

Exposure and Risk

Workers involved in production, farming, and herbicide application are exposed to the highest levels of atrazine. Atrazine is a restricted use pesticide (RUP) and most people cannot purchase it freely or use it. The general public is probably not exposed to atrazine on a regular basis. People who live in areas where atrazine is used may be exposed.

Exposure to atrazine can be through breathing, eating, or drinking or by skin contact. The general public may be exposed to atrazine found in water or air, but it is rarely found in foods. The general public can be exposed primarily through drinking well water.

Short-term exposure: Atrazine potentially causes health effects when people are exposed to it at levels above the MCL of 3 µg/L for relatively short periods of time. These health effects include:

  • congestion of heart, lungs, and kidneys;
  • low blood pressure;
  • muscle spasms;
  • weight loss; and
  • damage to adrenal glands.

Long-term exposure: Atrazine may potentially cause health effects from a lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL of 3 µg/L. These effects include:

  • weight loss;
  • cardiovascular damage;
  • retinal and some muscle degeneration; and
  • cancer.
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Prevention

If a doctor finds that a patient has been exposed to significant amounts of atrazine, that doctor should ask whether any children in the household might also be exposed. The doctor might need to ask the state health department to investigate.

Because atrazine is a restricted-use pesticide, most people cannot purchase it freely or use it. Because most people cannot purchase it for private use, you can reduce your risk of exposure to atrazine by avoiding areas where it is being used on crops or for control of weeds.

Well owners should contact their local health department to find out whether atrazine is a contaminant of concern in their area. Also, state drinking water agencies can provide names of laboratories certified to test drinking water.

Workers who apply atrazine to crops or for weed control can reduce their exposure to atrazine by using it according to instructions and wearing proper clothing and protective gear. They should follow all instructions and any warning statements.


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