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Friday, August 28, 2009

Atrazine update

Earlier in the week we linked to a New York Times article about the herbicide atrazine, and how it's winding up in water supplies around the country; we also noted that it's used fairly extensively here in Oregon. We wondered aloud how certain we could be that it wasn't in Portland's water. The administrator of the city's water bureau, David Shaff, consistently responds to our posts on water matters, and he sent us an e-mail message in response to our post. He wrote:

I read your blog and asked our Regulatory Compliance staff to let me know if we test for Atrazine in either of our water sources.

The answer is that we test for Atrazine in both Bull Run and groundwater and have not detected it in either source. The latest test results from Bull Run were from March of this year and for groundwater it was August of 2008 when we last ran groundwater. We just finished our annual maintenance run of groundwater this year and we don’t have the results back yet, but I don’t expect a different result.

The CCR (Consumer Confidence Report) a.k.a. the "glossy brochure" is a highly regulated document we are required to produce on an annual basis by the EPA. The EPA’s guidance manual on CCRs says, “Do not include in the table contaminants that are not detected or are detected below the MDL." However, we are not prohibited from listing all the contaminants we test for elsewhere in the document, so your point is well taken, its hard to tell if something not in the CCR was tested for and not detected, or not tested for.

Atrazine is one of the regulated SOCs (Synthetic Organic Chemical) (as is glyphosate--commercial name Roundup--which is also mentioned in the blog), and we test for SOCs in both Bull Run and groundwater. It is a pesticide in wide use in the United States for broad spectrum weed control. It is most commonly used in agricultural applications. Atrazine is most heavily used in corn-producing states.

Another chemical mentioned in the response to the original blog: Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) is an unregulated VOC (Volatile Organic Compound), but is part of the standard suite of VOCs we analyze for in our lab.

More information can be found regarding our water quality testing here:


Comments (12)

Kudos to administrator of the city's water bureau, David Shaff, for his responsiveness.

Wish all public servants served the public as well as he just did.

"Atrazine is most heavily used in corn-producing states."

Yes, but also used extensively in non-corn producing states, for non-corn applications. It's one of the most common herbicides in the US--and very common in the Willamette Valley.

One recent, local example:


In Europe, it's been completely banned for years. The US EPA, of course, thinks Atrazine is okay.

It's a contentious issue, and typical of the ongoing fight to get humans to stop poisoning the land and each other in the name of corporate convenience.

But can you make meth out of it?

Nice post, but rather hard to get to the reports themselves. Somewhat ambiguous about Round Up and MTBE.

"But can you make meth out of it?"
Allan: I am reporting you to Amadinnerjaket for immediate prosecution on Sunday. Such a remark?

Mr. Shaff is to be commended for his service

It's curious that Mr. Shaff refers to "Roundup" as a "pesticide". Generally, that term is applied to bug or rodent-killers, whereas Roundup is effective only against plants - and for a short period of time before it breaks down into water and (gasp!) carbon dioxide.

If you want to focus on use of round-up in PDX (which we all should) then don't forget Park and Rec. All but 3 parks are sprayed, which I learned about after witnessing them spray at Mt Scott playground while 15-18 children were playing. We left when they busted out the leaf blower and proceeded to blow where they had just sprayed! Harmless, my ass.

It's curious that Mr. Shaff refers to "Roundup" as a "pesticide". Generally, that term is applied to bug or rodent-killers, whereas Roundup is effective only against plants - and for a short period of time before it breaks down into water and (gasp!) carbon dioxide.

Atrazine is referred to as a "pesticide" in a lot of the scientific literature. Apparently both weeds and vermin are considered "pests."

US EPA & OR DEP & Metro & muni sewerage authorities should also do something about PPCPs (Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products) & hormones in surface waters, btw. Until that's ceased, no Willamette, Tualatin, Columbia, or other river waters should ever even be considered by responsible public drinking water suppliers! And "filtration" doesn't even touch that pharmaceutical stew.

We recently tested our PDX water using a WaterSafe home kit. YMMV with these, of course, but it did test positive for atrazine/simazine. We're waiting on a more reliable test.

One problem is that the EPA standard (3ppb atrazine, 4ppb simazine) is an annual average. It is likely that the herbicide is used in much greater quantities during the summer and then averaged out to below this limit over the off-season.

Let's ban atrazine together! Join Global Citizens Against Atrazine on Facebook.

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