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Syngenta US News

Syngenta statement on Atrazine Monitoring Program and Atrazine Ecological Exposure Monitoring Program

For more than fifteen years, Syngenta has conducted monitoring programs required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that measure concentrations of atrazine and its metabolites. The Atrazine Monitoring Program (AMP) is focused on surface drinking water sources and the Atrazine Ecological Exposure Monitoring Program (AEMP) is focused on potential ecological exposures. Both programs target watersheds vulnerable to runoff and provide high-quality, high-frequency sampling data. As EPA has recognized, the monitoring data generated by these programs is “often considered the most robust set of pesticide monitoring data available in the United States.”1

What is Atrazine?
Atrazine is a herbicide used for weed control in the production of crops. Predominantly used on corn, sorghum, and sugarcane, it’s also used on wheat, guava, macadamia nuts, ornamental plants, Christmas trees, and to a lesser extent, on residential lawns and golf courses.2 Herbicides are crucial tools for helping farmers manage weeds and significantly increase crop yields while decreasing the amount of tillage, which prevents soil erosion and greenhouse gas emissions.

Is Atrazine dangerous?
No. Atrazine has been extensively studied over the past 50 years. Nearly 7,000 studies have concluded it is safe for humans and the environment and it has been approved by international organizations and governments around the world.

As with every household and farm product, label instructions should always be followed for safest and most optimal use. 

Some media reporting on EPA’s recent decisions regarding the herbicide Atrazine and the AMP has revealed confusion about what steps the agency is actually taking and subsequent implications. To prevent misinformation, the following facts are provided.

What did Syngenta ask EPA for on the AEMP as it relates to COVID-19?
In order to conduct monitoring at each AEMP site, someone must visit the site for annual set-up and maintenance in order to begin sampling. Following set-up and maintenance, sampling teams need to visit each site weekly to collect water samples and ship them to the analytical lab. Currently multiple states, cities and counties have COVID-19 related executive shelter-in-place orders which challenge the ability to travel for these site visits. 

Given these restrictions, it is challenging to access AEMP monitoring sites because it is unclear if there will be staff available and allowed to travel to the monitoring sites to set-up equipment, perform required maintenance and collect water samples for the full season. Additionally, it is unclear if staff will be available in the lab to conduct water sample analysis for the full season. Considering these significant, unprecedented, and evolving challenges, Syngenta requested a suspension of AEMP for 2020 with full intentions to resume the monitoring program in 2021. The program has been ongoing for 16 years.

 EPA granted Syngenta suspension of the AEMP for 2020.

News media reporting on the suspension have been critical and have asked Syngenta questions. However, they have not included all the information from Syngenta as requested by those responsible for writing their articles. To prevent distortion and misinformation, following are the responses Syngenta provided to the actual questions the media asked to help the public better understand this matter.

1.    Why is it necessary to suspend the program? 

The atrazine ecological monitoring program is a labor-intensive program requiring travel to five states in a timely manner. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the states in the monitoring regions have issued shelter in place orders. Additionally, many companies like Syngenta have instituted travel restrictions for the protection of their employees’ health. The monitoring program could not be conducted this year without asking workers to violate these travel restrictions and put themselves in harm’s way. 

2.    What effect will that have on data quality? 

The atrazine ecological monitoring program was started in 2004 and has collected data every year for 16 years. It is the most robust monitoring program for atrazine ever carried out. The program collects daily sampling data throughout the atrazine use season. While unfortunate, the loss of one year of sampling data will not adversely affect the quality of the monitoring dataset.

3.    Syngenta asked for the program to be suspended last year. EPA determined it should continue. Does that decision affect this request at all? 

The request to suspend the atrazine ecological monitoring program last year was based on the fact that the program has adequately characterized how atrazine behaves in watersheds most sensitive to run-off. Over 16 years, the monitoring program has provided comprehensive data and has fulfilled its purpose. However, EPA decided that they would like to continue collecting data as part of the endangered species consultation process for atrazine. Syngenta agrees with EPA’s decision and looks forward to continuing the monitoring program in 2021. The decision to suspend the program in 2020 was strictly due to Covid-19 concerns and resulting travel restrictions and was completely unrelated to the 2019 request to end the program.

4.    Hello, I'm a reporter with …, and I'm writing a story on atrazine --- specifically a study suggesting that on farms using tile drainage, the risk of runoff contamination to water systems is greater. 

There is not an increase in run-off potential for tile drained fields for atrazine. There is a higher percentage of the degradate DEA in the tile drainage than of the parent compound atrazine. DEA is less toxic to aquatic species than atrazine.
5.    Can you tell me a little about the measures and practices Syngenta recommends to minimize impacts to streams, etc., etc.?  

The atrazine label contains many required setbacks and protections for waterbodies including a mandatory 66ft setback (no spray) at points of exit from the field where there is a concentrated run-off flow. There is a mandatory rate limit of 1.6 lbs/acre atrazine on HEL (highly Erodible Land) and a mandatory set back of 200ft from lakes and reservoirs.

6.    And is there anything in the formulation of atrazine that can lower these risks? 

Atrazine is used in many premixed herbicide products for corn and sorghum weed control. Many of these products contain different rates of atrazine. For instance, the maximum rate of atrazine in the Acuron herbicide brand is .65 lbs/acre. This is much lower than the allowable maximum rate of 2.0 lbs/acre. This allows farmers the flexibility to manage their atrazine application rate according to their situation.

1 Cumulative Triazine Drinking Water Assessment, Environmental Fate and Effects Division, Office of Pesticide Programs, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (October 28, 2015) at 38.
2 Atrazine Proposed Interim Registration Review Decision, Pesticide Re-evaluation Division, Office of Pesticide Programs, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (December 18, 2019) at 5.