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Toxic herbicide found in many Texans’ drinking water

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Nearly 500 water utilities across the state tested positive for atrazine — a weed killer — which can lead to harmful health effects, according to a new report. The Environmental Working Group also found that utilities are testing water during times when the herbicide isn’t being used as much — and that they may be lowballing the results.

More than 10 million Texans have consumed drinking water with some level of atrazine – a toxic herbicide – with 472 water utility systems statewide testing positive in at least one detection, according to a new report from an environmental group.

Comparing the test results submitted by water utilities to state environmental regulators to those from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Working Group concluded that water utilities are testing for atrazine at times when farmers aren’t using it — the growing season typically spans late spring and early summer — and also appear to be lowballing their numbers. The group is calling for updates to federal federal drinking water standards.

The report found that nearly 30 million Americans have atrazine in their tap water — and that Texans who live near sorghum or corn-growing areas are more likely to have contaminated drinking water.

The 472 Texas utilities with atrazine contamination serve nearly 10 million people. Water utilities in Texas send their data to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state’s environmental regulatory agency.

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In their analysis, EWG compared 2017 federal testing data collected at utilities in seven states, including Texas, with atrazine levels reported to state authorities over the same period. For 70 percent of utilities analyzed, the EWG found that tests were conducted outside periods of the atrazine spikes or that reported levels were below what EPA tests found.

Olga Naidenko, an EWG senior science advisor, said many water utilities stay in compliance with drinking water regulations by avoiding testing during seasonal spikes of atrazine.

“The utility, by playing the dates game, may not pick up the spike,” said Naidenko, one of the report’s authors. “By testing before or after the spike, they are effectively missing the spike or reporting very low levels.”

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Russell Hamilton, executive director of the Texas Water Utilities Association, said he is concerned when he hears reports like EWG’s, but said there are checks and balances in place to address elevation of herbicides like atrazine in water supplies.

“If atrazine is detected, that’s when the state takes action and there are steps in place where you have to start additional or advanced treatment procedures,” said Hamilton, whose organization provides training to those seeking to become licensed as water supply operators.

Brian McGovern, a spokesman for the state environmental agency, said the TCEQ uses third-party contractors to collect all chemical compliance samples, including those for atrazine. He said that monitoring would increase to a quarterly basis if atrazine levels rose above the EPA’s maximum contaminant levels or above the regulatory detection limit.

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In Texas, levels have not gone above the limit, but the EWG report said water utilities in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio had atrazine spikes much higher than the federal legal limit but the EWG recommends that the atrazine limit for drinking water be at 0.1 ppb. Only two Texas communities were a part of the EPA monitoring program in 2017, according to Sarah Graddy, deputy director of communications at EWG.

Texas must adopt regulations at least as stringent as those adopted by the EPA under the Safe Water Drinking act, according to the TCEQ website. The current EPA standard for atrazine in drinking water is 3 parts per billion (ppb), but EWG says it should be 0.1 ppb.

Naidenko said EWG cannot determine whether there is an intent by water utilities to deceive but said what is truly important is whether or not people consuming the contaminated drinking water are made aware of the issue. Atrazine can disrupt hormones and hurt fetuses, leading to greater risks of cardiovascular disease or developmental delays, the group said.

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A medical study from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston suggests a connection between maternal atrazine exposure and gastroschisis, a birth defect in the wall of a baby’s abdomen. Another study by UTHealth “observed modest, but consistent, associations” between maternal atrazine exposure and various deformities in male genitalia.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, last updated in 1996, only annual averages of atrazine need to be reported. Naidenko said it is important for state water authorities to advocate for “greater scrutiny” and to require that testing take place at a time when spike in atrazine is expected.

“We know there is under-detection because of when utilities take their samples,” Naidenko said. “All we can say is it looks suspicious that the compliance test does not show the same kind of spike as when testing is conducting by testers who are not associated with the water utilities.”

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The Office of Pesticide Programs at the EPA is studying whether or not it is appropriate to revise drinking water standards as they relate to atrazine, according to an EPA spokesperson. The EPA said it continues to evaluate peer reviewed data and information on the health effects of atrazine and simazine, another dangerous herbicide.

TCEQ said Texans can find information about their drinking water supply at Texas Drinking Water Watch, which allows users to search by county and system type, among other parameters. EWG said atrazine can be removed from water using common faucet-mounted filters or pitchers with a filter.

 


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‘A failure in judgment by every single Republican leader’: Ex-GOP congressman scorches Trump’s racism

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On Thursday's edition of MSNBC's "All In," former Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) laid into his erstwhile party for its embrace of President Donald Trump's racial hatred and intolerance, as exemplified by the crowd of Trump rallygoers in Greenville, North Carolina chanting "Send Her Back!" of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN).

"It was heartbreaking," said Jolly, who renounced the Republican Party and became an independent last year. "In terms of what I felt, it was heartbreak, both last night and then to see the likes of Lindsey Graham [(R-SC)] today suggest that the only problem is Omar doesn’t wear a MAGA hat. If refugees would just wear MAGA hats, they could stay. The others deserve to go."

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The racist Republican Party must be ‘utterly confronted and destroyed’: Chris Hayes

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On Thursday evening, MSNBC's Chris Hayes tore into the Republican Party for accepting and legitimizing the racism of President Donald Trump and his supporters.

"'Send Her Back.' The darkest, ugliest impulses that a political movement can cultivate on full unapologetic display," said Hayes. "That's what Donald Trump has been cultivating all along. Whether the Republican Party likes it or not, it stands for it now. Most of us across the ideological spectrum feel, viscerally, a kind of moral revulsion when we hear and see an angry mob braying 'Send Her Back' about a fellow American. But the reaction from Republicans today was basically a foregone conclusion."

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Trump ‘leads a domestic hate movement’ — and the world is watching in shock: WaPo columnist

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President Donald Trump's racism is shocking the entire globe, Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent wrote in a Thursday column.

"One of the most chilling things about President Trump’s hate-rally in North Carolina — which devolved into chants of “send her back,” directed at a nonwhite immigrant member of Congress — was the profusion of tweets about it from abroad," Sargent reported.

"As the president of the United States leads a domestic hate movement, the world is watching," he explained.

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