Thursday, September 28, 2000

Wake-Up Call for Rural America
New EPA Report Reveals Common Tap Water Contaminant Likely to Cause Cancer

(ARA) - Drinking water quality is just a problem for big cities with too many factories and too many cars, right?

Not so, says James Elder, Former Director of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. A recent study by EPA revealed atrazine, a common tap water contaminant in the Midwest, to be more dangerous than previously thought. EPA has recommended the commonly used herbicide be upgraded from a "possible" to a "likely" carcinogen.

"A common misconception is that rural America is safe from drinking water contamination. In fact, some of the most dangerous water contaminants, such as atrazine, are present in communities throughout the Midwest," says Elder. "These herbicides seep into the water supply after being applied primarily to corn fields to kill weeds."

Atrazine is the most widely used farm weed killer in the nation and a common tap water contaminant. Atrazine contaminates the tap water of more than 10 million people in the Midwest and causes more health standard violations in tap water than any other EPA-regulated chemical pollutant. (Source: Environmental Working Group)

"Water utilities are spending millions of dollars per year testing tap water for atrazine and other agricultural chemicals," says Elder. "Most existing drinking water treatment plants are not designed to remove atrazine before it reaches the tap. And while the EPA considers what action it will take to tighten the existing standard, consumers need to take personal action."

Elder recommends using a home water filtration system as an effective way to reduce the level of atrazine in drinking water. Many of these units are surprisingly affordable and easy to use.

"The most important thing to look for when shopping for a water filter is to make sure that it has been certified by an independent agency, such as the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), a nationally recognized not-for-profit agency that certifies water filters," says Elder. "For example, the PUR Ultimate faucet mount is NSF-certified to reduce atrazine."

Health Effects of Atrazine

The recent upgrade of atrazine by EPA from a "possible" carcinogen to a "likely" carcinogen comes after a five-year review of industry and government data summarized in EPA's new "hazard assessment," revealing atrazine to be of more serious concern than before. The report also says there are indications that atrazine could cause uterine, prostate and breast cancer in humans and may also disrupt reproductive development.

Children are especially at risk from exposure to atrazine. Based on animal studies, EPA has presented findings that atrazine has the potential to deliver potent harmful effects to the fetus, infant and children reaching puberty. (Source: Environmental Protection Agency)

Previously reported short-term health effects from exposure to atrazine include congestion of heart, lung and kidneys, low blood pressure, muscle spasms, weight loss and damage to the adrenal glands. Long-term effects from chronic exposure to atrazine include weight loss, cardiovascular damage, retinal and some muscle degeneration and cancer. (Source: Environmental Protection Agency)

To learn more about the atrazine levels in your local drinking water supply, visit In addition to finding direct links to the EPA consumer confidence reports -- water quality reports prepared by local municipal water suppliers -- the site provides consumers with useful information on common drinking water contaminants. If your community's water report is not available on the EPA Web site, call your local water supplier and request one be sent to you.

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