Save My Sanity: Atrazine in the water
The headline from the New York Times couldn't have been more alarmist: "Debating How Much Weed Killer Is Safe in Your Water Glass."
Weed killer? In my water glass?? Oh God, I knew we should have replaced the cartridge for our faucet filter when it expired, instead of just taking the thing off, and eventually pitching it.
OK, deep breath. Let's see what the story is about.
For decades, farmers, lawn care workers and professional green thumbs have relied on the popular weed killer atrazine to protect their crops, golf courses and manicured lawns.
But atrazine often washes into water supplies and has become among the most common contaminants in American reservoirs and other sources of drinking water.
Now, new research suggests that atrazine may be dangerous at lower concentrations than previously thought. Recent studies suggest that, even at concentrations meeting current federal standards, the chemical may be associated with birth defects, low birth weights and menstrual problems.
Laboratory experiments suggest that when animals are exposed to brief doses of atrazine before birth, they may become more vulnerable to cancer later.
Great. Our kids are going to get cancer all because we got lazy (or cheap, can't remember which) and didn't replace the filter. And both kids were born in the summer, right after "atrazine season." They're doomed!
The story goes on to say that some communities have had sharp spikes of atrazine in their water, up to 59 parts per billion. The EPA requires water systems to notify residents if the yearly average exceeds 3 parts per billion. Because water systems are only required to test once a year, these spikes may not be detected.
However, the handy little map that goes along with the story shows that only 1.3 percent of Michigan's population has been exposed to atrazine in drinking water, compared with 16.3 percent in Florida, 40.6 in Ohio and 70.4 percent in Kansas.
OK, that's good (for us Michigan residents anyway). But still, this story says that lab animals who receive brief doses of atrazine before birth may be more vulnerable to cancer.
I looked online at Ann Arbor's latest annual water quality report and noticed that atrazine was not mentioned. Wondering why, I called Sumedh Bahl, the water treatment services manager.
"We don't have any," he replied. "We did a test in June 2009. We tested the reservoir water, and didn't find any in 2008 or 2009."
Bahl checked the city's annual reports as far back as 1996, and said atrazine has never been detected.
It seems far-fetched to imagine that we could be having brief, undetected spikes when the chemical has never been detected at all here.
So, nothing to worry about for Ann Arborites. But when we take our yearly visit to see my parents in Florida, maybe we'll stick to bottled water.
Your turn: Are you concerned about the quality of your tap water, and if so, do you use a water filtration system at home?
Photo courtesy of American Water Works Association.
Jen Eyer is on the Community Team at AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at 734-623-2577 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit her at the first floor office at 301 East Liberty.