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What is atrazine, and is it detrimental to your health?

Staff writer

The cities of Hillsboro and Marion recently entered into a contract with a law firm to join a class-action suit against a drug company for the atrazine found in their drinking water supplies.

Does that mean the drinking water is unsafe?

According to information provided by the Kansas Corn Growers Association and Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association, the amount of atrazine used on crops is one-third less than 12 years ago.

Atrazine is a component in 50 different herbicide products available to farmers. It is used widely in no-till operations which purportedly reduce soil erosion, build organic matter, and provide better wildlife habitat. It also allows farmers to use less fuel.

Atrazine is used around the world and has never been discontinued based on health effects.

The most recent test report of Hillsboro water, as provided to residents, states: “The bottom line is that the water that is provided to you is safe.”

Many chemicals are detrimental to health if consumed in large quantities. Even taking too many aspirins at one time can be lethal.

The dose makes the poison. We rarely stop using something we want or need simply because it could be poisonous at some level. Even toxic substances are safe if not ingested at a toxic level.

For example, there is a lethal dose of caffeine in approximately 100 cups of strong coffee, but coffee drinkers survive because they do not drink 100 cups of coffee at one time.

Our bodies have built-in defense mechanisms which detoxify foreign chemicals that we swallow in non-toxic amounts.

The Environmental Protection Agency sets the standard as to the maximum amount of certain chemicals that is safe to consume.

In the case of atrazine, after numerous safety tests, the amount deemed safe by EPA and State of Kansas for humans is three parts per billion (ppb) in drinking water. This is 1000 times safer than a level shown to have NO health effects in laboratory animals.

According to the latest test results of drinking water by Hillsboro and Marion, Hillsboro’s level of atrazine is .97 ppb and Marion’s level is 1. , much lower than the 3.0 allowed.

To put it in perspective, three ppb is an amount similar to three cents of $10 million.

A 150-pound adult could drink 21,000 gallons of water containing 3 ppb of Atrazine every day for 70 years and still not reach levels shown to have NO effects in lab studies.

In fact, in order to obtain an acute dose of atrazine from water contaminated at the three ppb maximum level, a person would have to drink more than nine million gallons of water or all of the water in 14 Olympic-size swimming pools.

In this case, the water would be a greater problem than the atrazine, because drinking more than 15 percent of one’s body weight of pure water also can be lethal.

A 22-pound toddler could drink 3,000 gallons of the water a day for a lifetime and still not reach levels shown to have NO effects in lab studies.

If the lawsuit is successful, the company that manufactures atrazine will pull the product or make a new more expensive one and pass the increased cost on to the customers, which in this case, are farmers and agribusinesses who support our communities.

Last modified April 8, 2009

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