Atrazine – the nasty stuff in your herbicide

August 25, 2010 by  

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I have been lately struggling with our backyard, which although just a little bigger than a postage stamp, nevertheless is too much work, what with the dandelions, clovers and other weeds sprouting up all over. Add to this the fact the neighbors’ backyards, simply separated by low bushes, are neat and trim – weedless. My neighbor to the left was kind enough to give me a tip on how to fight the weeds – mainly of out fear that the undesirables make their way from my green to patch to hers – use herbicide. My first reaction was of course “No way will I use herbicides and other chemicals in my backyard!”. But then I realized the necessity (if only to avoid suburbia war) and so I decided to do some research on how to tackle the problem the safest and the most environmentally feasible way. I learned that there are organic alternatives to conventional herbicides, mainly consisting of biodegradable, naturally occurring compounds. I also learned that several compounds used in conventional herbicides are really nasty. And one of them is atrazine.

A recent study funded by the National Institutes for Health (NIH) investigated the effect of atrazine in animals. When pregnant rats were exposed to atrazine, the following were observed:

  • Atrazine causes prostate inflammation in young male rats
  • Atrazine-exposed young animals experienced delayed puberty that non-exposed animals.

What is concerning is the fact that the effects were observable even at low levels and increased with increasing doses of exposure.

Atrazine is a herbicide predominantly used to control weeds and grasses in crop plants such as corn and sugar cane. Atrazine may be good for the crops and food production but it is definitely not good for the environment and the people around. Long after the crops have been harvested, the herbicide and its byproducts persist in the environment and eventually find their way into the water supplies – and the water we drink.

We may not be aware of the exposure and its effects but it seems that, as the study suggests, exposure starts even at the womb and the tissues most especially targeted are the prostate and mammary (breast) tissues. The long-terms effects are not fully known but we can speculate about cancer and infertility.

It is not only atrazine that we should we should be wary of. Herbicides may contain other similar compounds belonging to the chlorotriazine family, such as propazine and simazine. And many more.

So next time you reach for that bottle of herbicide in your garden shed, read the label and what is written there. Watch out for the nasties.

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