EPA Begins New Study of Atrazine's Cancer Effects

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it is launching this year a comprehensive new evaluation of the pesticide atrazine to determine its effects on humans. At the end of this process, the agency will decide whether to revise its current risk assessment of the pesticide and whether new restrictions are necessary to better protect public health. One of the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the United States, atrazine can be applied before and after planting to control broadleaf and grassy weeds. EPA will evaluate the pesticide’s potential cancer and non-cancer effects on humans. Included in this new evaluation will be the most recent studies on atrazine and its potential association with birth defects, low birth weight, and premature births.

“Our examination of atrazine will be based on transparency and sound science, including independent scientific peer review, and will help determine whether a change in EPA’s regulatory position on this pesticide is appropriate,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances.

During the new evaluation, EPA will consider the potential for atrazine cancer and non-cancer effects, and will include data generated since 2003 from laboratory and population studies. To be certain that the best science possible is used in its atrazine human health risk assessment and ensure transparency, EPA said it will seek advice from the independent Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) established under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.

EPA will engage the SAP to evaluate the human health effects of atrazine over the coming year, following this timeline:

  • November 2009: EPA will present SAP its plan for the new atrazine evaluation.
  • February 2010: EPA will present and seek scientific peer review of its proposed plan for incorporating population studies into the atrazine risk assessment.
  • April 2010: EPA will present and seek peer review of its evaluation of atrazine non-cancer effects based on animal laboratory toxicology studies, selection of safety factors in the risk assessment, and the sampling design currently used to monitor drinking water in community water systems.
  • September 2010: EPA will present and seek peer review of its evaluation of atrazine cancer and non-cancer effects based on animal toxicology studies and epidemiology studies. This review is intended to include the most recent results from the National Cancer Institute’s Agricultural Health Study, anticipated for publication in 2010.

At the conclusion of this process, EPA will ask the SAP to review atrazine’s potential effects on amphibians and aquatic ecosystems. The SAP meetings will be open to the public.

In addition to the scientific review of the effects of atrazine, EPA plans to meet with interested groups to explore better ways to inform the public more quickly about results of atrazine drinking water monitoring. For more information on atrazine, visit www.epa.gov/pesticides/reregistration/atrazine/atrazine_update.htm.

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