Most urban Canadians turn on the tap and expect clean drinking water to come out. But did you know that a harmful pesticide called atrazine is polluting drinking water sources across Quebec and Ontario? Tell the federal government to ban harmful atrazine.
The corn herbicide atrazine originates from the equivalent of the pesticide stone ages – the 1950s. Sales are declining, but it’s still the second-best selling herbicide in Canada. Tested and true, right? Unfortunately, atrazine is anything but harmless. It’s a known endocrine disruptor that messes with human and animal hormones, and is particularly harmful to frogs and other amphibians that live in contaminated streams and lakes. Atrazine’s reproductive toxicity (including hermaphrodism, demasculinization, feminization) was first observed in frogs, but has now been reported in fish, reptiles and mammals. Scary, right? And we don’t know enough yet about long-term impacts on humans.
The hormone-disrupting characteristics of atrazine are compounded by the fact that it’s a persistent pollutant – it doesn’t break down easily in soil and water and can linger for years. The result is that drinking water sources across Canada are polluted, especially in corn-growing regions. Data published by the federal government last year showed that atrazine was detected in 11 per cent of groundwater samples tested. Surface water testing in Quebec even showed atrazine in 70 per cent of samples in 2014.
The problem is that water treatment plants are not equipped to eliminate atrazine from drinking water.
The exact extent of groundwater contamination remains unknown as testing for atrazine is not mandatory for drinking water plants.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Atrazine was banned in the European Union in 2004 over drinking water pollution concerns. Pesticide manufacturer Syngenta couldn’t demonstrate to regulators that excessive atrazine levels in groundwater could be prevented or that they are safe. EU regulations stipulate that the allowable limit for any one pesticide is 0.1 microgram/litre of drinking water – and atrazine levels routinely exceeded this threshold. It’s no surprise then that EU-wide ban was preceded by bans in corn-producing Germany and Italy in 1991. Drinking water pollution from atrazine in northern Italy’s agricultural Po region even led to the shutdown of local drinking water plants, prompting public outcry. Smaller countries like Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Finland also banned atrazine by 1995.
So why is atrazine still allowed in Canada? Here’s a hint: atrazine isn’t just the second-best selling herbicide in Canada, but also in the U.S., right behind glyphosate (Roundup). Despite acknowledging that “studies thus far suggest that atrazine is an endocrine disruptor,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has declined to ban the pesticide. One of the main arguments against a ban has been the claim that corn yields would drop signifcantly.
However, neither Germany nor Italy experienced a decrease in corn yields after banning atrazine. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that a drop would be barely above one per cent.
All this begs the question what Canada is waiting for. The federal government is currently re-evaluating the registration for atrazine, with a decision expected by March 2017. This is our chance to speak out for safe drinking water and environment. Take a minute and sign our petition to the federal government to ban atrazine.