Atrazine Essay

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Atrazine i s a white, crystalline, solid, organic compound that is soluble in water and does not exist naturally in the environment. When pure, it is odorless and not very volatile, reactive, or flammable. It is widely used as a selective herbicide to prevent and/or to stop the growth of broadleaf and grassy weeds in crops-corn, sorghum, sugarcane, pineapples, macadamia nuts, soybeans, etc.-and in conifer reforestation plantings. It is also employed as a nonselective herbicide on highway and railroad rights-of-way, noncropped industrial lands, and fallow lands.

Atrazine was deemed to be the most widely used herbicide in the United States from 1987-89, but presently its uses are greatly restricted. Classified as Toxicity Class III slightly toxic it is not available to the general public and may be purchased and applied only by certified users.

Atrazine enters the environment primarily through spraying on farm crops, but may also be found in soils as a result of its formulation, manufacture, and disposal. If it enters the soil, it may be taken up by the plants growing in the ground or broken down by microbial activity and other chemicals, particularly in alkaline conditions, even if biodegradation takes a long time. If it enters the air, it may travel as far as 186 miles (300 km) from the application area, or it may be broken down or adhere to particles, such as dust, and then settle. If it is washed from soil into streams or groundwater, it will remain there for a long time, as its breakdown in water is quite slow.

While the general population is not habitually exposed to Atrazine, farm workers, chemical sprayers, and manufacturing and railway workers may be regularly exposed to it. Therefore, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set limits of Atrazine content in workplace air: five mg/m3 for an eight-hour workday and a 40-hour workweek. Individuals who drink water from wells that are contaminated with Atrazine may also be exposed to the chemical. To protect human health, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set nonenforceable levels for chemicals that do or may cause health problems in drinking water for all public water supplies: The maximum contaminant level for Atrazine is set at three parts per billion.

Heath and Environmental Impacts

Although Atrazine does not tend to concentrate in living organisms such as clams or fish, the EPA has also set maximum levels allowed in foods at 0.02-15 parts Atrazine per million. In specific circumstances, people who absorb Atrazine orally, by inhalation, or through the skin may suffer from some or all of these acute poisoning symptoms: abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, eye and mucous membrane irritation, and skin reactions.

Studies on animals have shown that exposure to high levels of Atrazine for relatively short periods of time can provoke in some species damage to the heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, and adrenal glands as well as blood pressure alterations, muscle spasms, and weight loss. In laboratory animals, a lifetime exposure to high levels of Atrazine can cause reproductive and cardiovascular damage, retinal and muscle degeneration, and cancer. However, Atrazine is not expected to have similar effects on human health because of specific biological differences between humans and test animals.


  1. United States Department of Health and Human Services: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, The Toxicological Profile for Atrazine (2003),

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