Atrazine is the most common herbicide used in the United States. Designed and manufactured to combat weeds, some 75 million pounds of atrazine are used each year, most commonly on corn, sugarcane, and other crops as well as on golf courses and household lawns. Atrazine is specifically designed to dissolve in soil. As a result, runoff into surface and ground water commonly occurs.
First approved for use in 1958, atrazine has come under growing criticism in recent years for potential health problems and environmental damage. The herbicide has been banned in Europe since 2005, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently announced a reexamination of atrazine. A major atrazine lawsuit against Syngenta, the largest manufacturer, was settled in 2012.
Atrazine runoff into water supplies has been linked to a number of problems. These include increased risks of birth defects, environmental damage to amphibians, and contamination of local water supplies.
Some studies have linked atrazine to serious health problems. A March 2013 Texas study found that babies born in counties with high atrazine levels were twice as likely to develop some birth defects than babies born in counties with low atrazine levels. In 2002, an EPA risk assessment dismissed links between atrazine and cancer. This decision has remained controversial among consumer groups.
Other studies contend that atrazine can lead to serious environmental problems. A March 2010 study found that male frogs exposed to atrazine levels within EPA guidelines became more feminine than unexposed frogs. Exposed frogs developed lower levels of testosterone. A small percentage became functionally female, gaining the ability to mate and lay eggs.
Syngenta and farmers have vigorously defended atrazine from criticism. They point to the EPA's continued approval of atrazine as recently as 2006. Farmers have relied on atrazine for over 50 years, and Syngenta notes that only a few studies out of many have found that exposure to atrazine leads to adverse health and environmental effects.
The controversy over atrazine has extended to the courtroom. Companies that manufacture and sell dangerous chemicals can be sued when those chemicals cause foreseeable injuries. Product liability law permits these lawsuits so that people injured by dangerous chemicals can receive compensation from companies responsible for the chemicals. Depending on the applicable law, these claims can be based on strict liability grounds or negligence.
So far, the largest atrazine lawsuit has been brought by water utility companies. In 2010, twenty water utility companies filed a major federal class action lawsuit. The lawsuit alleged that Syngenta, the largest manufacturer of atrazine, knew about and was responsible for contamination of local water supplies. The water utilities sought compensation from Syngenta for the costs of filtering atrazine from their water supplies, a process requiring the use of carbon filtering systems. These lawsuits also noted the health risks atrazine contamination poses to pregnant women and the environment.
The class action lawsuit was settled in 2012. Syngenta agreed to pay $105 million to help cover the costs of removing atrazine from affected water supplies. Since receiving court approval for the settlement in October 2012, some 1,085 claims for compensation have been filed. While water utilities with the most atrazine contamination will receive full compensation, most companies will receive smaller amounts. Illinois based water utility companies must split $15 million between 143 water districts; Iowa companies must split $3.5 million among 73 claiming companies. The average payout is $50,000. While agreeing to the settlement, Syngenta continues to deny any link between atrazine and serious side effects.
Some consumer attorneys have begun investigating cases where atrazine might be responsible for birth defects in newborns. These lawsuits might be based on claims that atrazine is a dangerous chemical responsible for injuring pregnant women or newborns. Developments in this area would likely follow the conclusion of ongoing EPA reviews of atrazine.
People living in areas where atrazine is commonly used should keep a close eye on atrazine developments. Women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant should consider talking with their doctor about atrazine in drinking water.
Contact a qualified product liability attorney to make sure your rights are protected.