Atrazine is a herbicide notorious for its unbeatable capacity to help the growth of crops while getting rid of troublesome broadleaf and grassy weeds. It’s the second most used and sold herbicide in the USA, being most commonly used in American territories and in Australia. Atrazine is generally used to treat crops of corn, sugarcane, pineapples, macadamia nuts, or even Christmas trees. It also has its fair share of non-agricultural uses too, often being sprayed on the sides of roads and highways to ensure that weeds won’t be spurting near traffic anytime soon.
Needless to say, there is a problem. If there weren’t a problem, then the title would indicate nothing but a whole bunch of praise. Herbicides have their own purpose and we’ve evolved a lot since the days when we suddenly discovered the benefits of chemicals and did nothing but spray our harvests with poisons. These days, herbicides and fertilizers aim to be more helpful than damaging (otherwise Greenpeace, UNICEF, and other environmental will have the heads of the producers, for a good reason) and, in many instances, they actually manage it too.
How Herbicides Affect Plants
Herbicides destroy weeds that might otherwise affect the growth and proper development of the crops. Unfortunately, even for something that is so entirely fabricated by men, they are as prone to losing control as anything else. Nearby benevolent plants often feel the fury of herbicides and become sad collateral damage. Of course, this isn’t a general situation – there are plenty of solutions that are purposely made so that they won’t affect afferent plants.
Here’s the thing about Atrazine – it infiltrates the soil and, more often than not, it’s extremely slow to burn down. Traces of Atrazine can linger for up to a year, which makes this plenty of time for the herbicide to leak into rivers, lakes, streams, and eventually end up in our tap water. The chemical composition of Atrazine is carefully crafted, in a way that assures us that we’ll be fine if we decide to nibble on a slice of pineapple that was sprayed with it. We’re not sure if the same can be said about water.
Atrazine and The Environment
Many questions, confusions, and controversies have arisen after studies unveiled the highly damaging effects Atrazine has on the wildlife. This isn’t even about the herbicide getting absorbed into the air or atmosphere (because the impact isn’t really that significant), but about the earlier mentioned issue: Atrazine making its way into streams of water.
Said studies focused especially on the creatures swimming in our waters. While Atrazine leaks are pretty harmful to fish as well, the ones really taking the harshest blow are frogs. Professor Tyrone Hayes of University of California Berkeley discovered that male frogs getting exposed to as little as 0.1 ppb leaves them essentially “chemically castrated.” Said male frogs suddenly develop characteristics that make them resemble females.
Is Atrazine Putting Us in Harm’s Way?
Even though there are plenty of precautions taken to diminish the likelihood of getting exposed to Atrazine, sometimes it still happens. Unsurprisingly, researchers have managed to draw a line between hormonal derangements and exposure to Atrazine. It might not be as extreme as in the case of a male frog going female, but the effects certainly weigh a lot.
- Endocrine System Issues: Atrazine exposure led to a variety of disruptions of the endocrine system, including alterations of key hormones and delays of puberty in the case of humans. In the case of amphibians… well, you know the drill.
- Reproductive System Issues: The most damaging of all is the effect that Atrazine exposure can have on reproduction. It’s been proven to increase the risk of miscarriages, to reduce male fertility, and to increase the chances of a variety of birth defects and difficulties, including a low weight.
The chances for an Atrazine exposure aren’t high enough to make out of it a common occurrence, however. What’s most important is that we try to avoid direct contact, let it be on skin or digestion. Pregnant women are the most vulnerable, especially in the third trimester, and it’s highly recommended that they steer away from herbicides and pesticides altogether.
The Aftermaths on the Food Chain
The good news is that it has been proven that Atrazine doesn’t amass in any organisms that come in contact to it, including clams, fish, bacteria, or algae. It has even less of an impact on mammals or birds. As a result, Atrazine hardly disrupts the food chain.
There is a reason why Atrazine is such a widely produced and used herbicide – its innovative components are trying to provide a safe harvesting experience while also keeping us, nature, and the wildlife safe. It would take a serious misuse of the product to manage to turn this around and serve at dinner radioactive corn, for example (which is why it’s always vital to read labels before messing with chemical components).
Atrazine is so widely used also because of how effective it is. However, when you really think about it, the role it plays in saving crop cultures isn’t really that big. There are plenty of farmers who have learned the way of farming without using Atrazine and the harvest losses for their corn cultures were less than 1%.
All in all, yes – there is a problem with Atrazine. It has some serious effects on reproductive and endocrine systems and it makes frogs change sexes. But, fortunately, all of these damaging effects don’t come from our food supplies. What we really need to keep an eye out for is tap water. Buy bottled water, people.