A common herbicide tied to reproductive disruptions in humans may be occurring at higher levels in U.S. drinking water than is being detected by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a report issued Monday by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The council claims that the EPA may miss "spikes" in water levels of atrazine, especially in the Midwest and South, where it is applied to a variety of crops. In use since the 1950s, atrazine is a known "endocrine disruptor" and can interfere with the body's hormonal and reproductive development, according to the Washington Post.
The EPA typically checks for atrazine in water at four set times each year -- potentially missing spikes in concentrations that occur after rain or the springtime use of the herbicide, the council said.
"Our biggest concern is early-life-stage development," NRDC senior scientist Jennifer Sass told the Post. "If there's a disruption during that time, it becomes hard-wired into the system. These endocrine disrupters act in the body at extremely low levels. These spikes matter."
Her group noted that the EPA's own analysis found that during 2003 and 2004, 54 water systems had peaks of atrazine concentrations that exceeded the 3 parts per billion the agency considers safe.
Speaking to the Post, Steve Owens, the administrator of the EPA Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, said the agency "will take a hard look at atrazine and other substances."
A spokesman for the herbicide industry told the Post the NRDC report was alarmist. "Atrazine is one of the best studied, most thoroughly regulated molecules on the planet," said toxicologist Tim Pastoor, who works for atrazine maker Syngenta. "Those momentary spikes are not going to be injurious to human health."