EPA’s Atrazine Decision Raises Ecological LOC, but Science Must Be Corrected

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Growers: Comments are due by March 2, 2020 on the Atrazine Preliminary Interim Decision (PID). EPA’s atrazine PID, published on Jan. 2, 2020, in the federal register, supports EPA’s commitment to use credible scientific research in setting a reasonable aquatic ecosystem Level of Concern (LOC) for atrazine. The interim decision is positive for growers who rely on the atrazine for weed control. However, the LOC must be solidified and low quality science that remains in the document must be addressed, according to the Triazine Network, a coalition of agricultural organizations that advocates for science-based regulatory decisions regarding the triazine herbicides including atrazine.

The PID corrects a recommendation made in the 2016 Ecological Risk Assessment to set the LOC at 3.6 parts per billion, an ultra-low level that would have banned the use of atrazine in much of farm country. The lower LOC was based on questionable research, including studies that had been turned down by EPA’s 2012 Science Advisory Panel (SAP). Relying on several points of information, including EPA’s SAP recommendations, the agency modified the LOC to 15 parts per billion over a 60-day average.

“This higher LOC is good news for farmers across America, but we need to keep the pressure on EPA and make sure 15 means 15 in the ecological level of concern,” said Missouri Corn Growers Association CEO Gary Marshall, who chairs the Triazine Network. “Through our diverse coalition of grower organizations, we met with EPA Administrator Wheeler and staff to provide specific details on why this product is tremendously important to farmers across the country, especially for weed control in conservation practices. From citrus to sorghum and corn to Christmas trees, farmers rely on the agency’s use of credible science to regulate the products that allow us to safely grow more with less for a hungry global population.”

On Jan. 2, 2020, EPA published their Preliminary Interim Decision (PID) on atrazine in the Federal Register. This opened a comment period that ends March 2, 2020. While there has been positive movement on this reregistration, there is still more work to do – and the deadline for comments is quickly approaching. Here’s the good, the bad, and the unknown.

THE GOOD: EPA is recommending an ecological level of concern (LOC) of 15 parts per billion (ppb) over a 60-day rolling average. This corrects a 2016 recommendation that would have set the LOC at 3.4 ppb, which would have prevented atrazine from being used in much of farm country. That said, this level is not set in stone. We need to keep the pressure on to ensure 15 ppb means 15 ppb.

THE BAD: There are two issues. While the higher LOC is appreciated, the recommended 15 ppb could be interpreted for the purpose of addressing specific watersheds in the reregistration. For atrazine concentrations in general watersheds, EPA suggested a community-equivalent LOC (CE-LOC) range of 1.9‒26 ppb. This range leaves too much room for interpretation and keeps the door open for future restrictive measures. Secondly, EPA did not correct the science in the PID. Several low-quality ecological studies on fish, birds, and amphibians remain in the registration review document. Meanwhile, high-quality studies continue to be excluded. These defective studies can have drastic consequences in future reviews, including the upcoming Endangered Species Act (ESA) biological evaluation required by law. If the faulty science remains, and the range is not eliminated, this could be misused and misinterpreted in the ESA evaluation. This could negatively impact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries Service determination for the ESA, ultimately limiting or losing atrazine entirely.

THE UNKNOWN: In a letter to the Network, EPA pledged to use credible scientific evidence in the atrazine reregistration. Will they stick to their promise? Will the biological evaluation include the latest concrete, credible, verifiable research? We must make sure the agency knows anything less is unacceptable and would have drastic implications in the ESA review.

TAKE ACTION: We need comments from growers to combat the thousands of comments we know will be generated by anti-agriculture activists. Please consider sending out a call to action to your members to submit comments by March 2, 2020.

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Atrazine is a key herbicide that helps farmers control weeds that rob crops of water and nutrients and is especially important for conservation practices. Utilized for over 60 years, atrazine is the most researched herbicide in history and has a proven safety record.

“Simply put, atrazine helps farmers control weeds that rob field crops of nutrients, water, and sunlight,” Marshall said. “Over the years, farmers have dramatically reduced application rates of atrazine. Through farmer-funded research, we have learned how to efficiently and effectively use it to control weeds and to help implement conservation measures like no-till farming.”

The publication of the atrazine PID in the Federal Register opens a 60-day comment period that ends on March 2, 2020. Marshall said it is crucial for growers to submit comments supporting the atrazine preliminary interim decision, explain how they use atrazine, and why it is important to their farming operations.

“EPA made a move to use credible science in its interim decision,” noted Marshall. “That won’t please some well-funded special interest groups that have targeted atrazine for many years. This is why we need comments in support of this decision from growers who actually use atrazine, and who understand its safety and value to long-term conservation efforts.”

Approved for use 1958, atrazine has been extensively reviewed by EPA over the decades and across administrations. The current registration review process began in 2013.