Thursday, February 2, 2012

Atrazine In Drinking Water

Atrazine is in our local news again. A routine EPA water analysis of the Blanchester Pubic Affairs drinking water revealed a rolling average of 4 PPB, over the maximum 3 PPB. Is one part per billion going to kill you or make a difference?

They have to set the benchmark somewhere. Scientists looked at toxicology tests over a period of time determined that anything over 3 PPB was excessive, not 4 or 5 or whatever.

The first thing I thought was, that's what happens when corn goes to $6. The land in the watershed is usually planted to soybeans more than corn. But with the increased price of corn being offered, farmers planted more corn and applied more atrazine to control the weeds.

Then I thought, look at the record rainfall the area has received in the last 13 months. Most farms have received around 70 inches of rainfall in that time period. Atrazine easily attaches to water and gets moved off target.

Probably both had something to do with this finding. The big thing is we do need to protect our water supply and we normally do a good job. The finding isn't big enough to say we are dong a poor job or did the wrong thing in our agricultural practices. It just happened, and we need to take precaution to not let it happen again.

There are lots of alternatives to atrazine, but it is still the cheapest and easiest way to kill grass and other weeds in corn for 50 years. Nothing controls weeds as cheaply, safely and effectively as atrazine.

A sister chemical is cyanazine. It was the best weed killer in corn we have ever had in this region. It moved even more than atrazine and DuPont gave up fighting to relabel it over 10 years ago. It breaks down into cyanide and atrazine a little too easily. I think we could have safely kept it with more regulation but DuPont decided it wasn't worth it.

So what's in your drinking water? I am sure I am drinking a part per billion of atrazine and other chemicals in my Highland County Water but I can safely produce enough food for 155 people like every other farmer in this country does.

Atrazine is a great herbicide but it won't kill the wild bluegrass or poa annua in the fields like this picture. That grass is resistant to every herbicide I have applied to it including Round Up, Ignite, and Gramoxone.



  1. Except for Mexicans, corn is not really a human staple food like wheat is. If you exclude California and a few other places where farmers do grow human edible food, isn't it more like most farmers who grow corn and soybeans feed 0 people, not 150?

    Granted a lot of it ends up indirectly as human food via animal transformation of feed, and some corn products like HFCS or soybean oil are present in nearly all processed food, but this is not really food or feeding people directly either. You could just as well say that the average car factory workshop is feeding 150 people. Big Ag is just an industrial process for producing in large quantity the raw materials other industries need, it does not seem to be about feeding people anymore.

    Oh, and a typo on Blanchester's pubes.

  2. Ed

    It appears your blog audience has expanded beyond agricultural interests. We can no longer assume every viewer comprehends the complexity of the ag production sector.

    Ron Swanson

  3. Ron, we have all kinds of readers of various interests and intents, no doubt. That's the Internet today.

    I admit it can be misleading to say I feed 150 people when it might be 10 or 1000. I quoted the AgWeb and even linked it so enough said about that.

    I will go check out Blanchester.


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  5. Explain it to me then, Ron! ^-^
    I am not contesting the figures or criticizing the blog post, that's why I said "indirectly", I'm just saying that all those farmers who grow corn, soy or cotton, which is not edible to humans.

    There's still a lot of wheat and many other products or we'd all be dead, and a state like California is basically a whole country of its own from an agricultural production standpoint, but the U.S. still import a lot of produce and fruits from Mexico and South America.