Atrazine is a chemical primarily used to control weeds in cornfields. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates atrazine is the most widely used pesticide in the United States, with as many as 85 million pounds produced annually. Recent concerns over the safety of atrazine have caused some to reassess its use.
History and Use
Atrazine was approved for use as a herbicide in 1958 and has become one of the most widely used herbicides to control weeds for both agricultural and nonagricultural purposes. Atrazine is used on cornfields, although it is also used on sugarcane and sorghum, as well as on turfgrass, Christmas tree farms and around ornamental trees. In May 2002, the EPA reclassified atrazine as a restricted-use pesticide in light of potentially harmful health effects.
Atrazine is available in liquid, dry and soluble forms and controls broadleaf weeds and grasses in agricultural land and turf. Atrazine came under closer scrutiny when a review of research literature conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed it caused hormone imbalances in laboratory animals, which may affect reproduction and growth.
According to the Extension Toxicology Network, atrazine does not break down in soil. Because it does not stick to soil particles and is slightly soluble in water, atrazine leaches into groundwater when compounds flow with rain or irrigation water into groundwater supplies. In areas where atrazine is used heavily, significant concentrations have been found in drinking water, raising questions about the safety of its use.
As the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's website explains, atrazine's status as a restricted-use pesticide means only certified pesticide applicators can use it and must maintain records when they do. Its use is further restricted in areas where there is a high risk of it leaching into groundwater.
The importance of corn as a commodity crop in the United States makes weed control in cornfields essential. According to the Iowa State University Cooperative Extension, few chemicals are as effective as atrazine. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture recommends mechanical practices to reduce the need for chemical herbicides, such as rotary hoeing and row cultivation.