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Learn what you need to know about atrazine.

Also known as: AAtrex, AAtram, Atratol, and Gesaprim

What is atrazine?

Atrazine is a white crystal solid. Farmers have used it widely as a weed killer on corn fields since the early 1960s.

Where is atrazine found?

In 1985, 77% of the acres of field corn and 49% of the acres of sweet corn in Wisconsin were treated with atrazine. A 2017 survey of rural Wisconsin wells found widespread atrazine contamination. In most cases, the amounts detected did not pose a serious risk to health. However, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has taken action to reduce atrazine use to prevent any more groundwater contamination.

Atrazine exposure

Most people are exposed to atrazine when they manufacture, distribute, mix, or use the herbicide. People who live in rural areas may be exposed to low levels through their drinking water.

Rural residents may inhale dust or mists during field applications of atrazine. People who have contaminated drinking water may be exposed to low levels of atrazine, they could breathe atrazine as they cook, bathe, or do laundry.

Some low-level exposure to atrazine may occur when treated crops are eaten or handled. Topsoil may contain traces of atrazine for several months after field applications of atrazine. People who handle contaminated soil could ingest traces of the herbicide if they eat or touch their mouths with dirty hands.

What regulations and guidelines are available to protect people from atrazine?

The state and federal drinking water standards for atrazine are both set at 3 parts per billion (ppb). We suggest you stop drinking water that contains more than 3 ppb of atrazine. If levels of atrazine are very high (greater than 100 ppb) in your water, you may also need to avoid washing, bathing, or using the water for other purposes.

Health effects

Everyone's reaction is different

A person's reaction to chemicals depends on several things, including individual health, heredity, previous exposure to chemicals including medicines, and personal habits such as smoking or drinking. It’s also important to consider the length of exposure to the chemical, the amount of chemical exposure, and whether the chemical was inhaled, touched, or eaten.

Eye or skin irritation may occur immediately or shortly after handling atrazine. However, short-term, low-level exposure to atrazine is unlikely to cause health problems.

Based on animal feeding studies, atrazine has been classified as a "possible" cancer-causing agent. Long-term exposure may increase a women's risk of breast cancer.

Animal feeding studies indicate that exposure to high levels of atrazine over a long period of time causes tremors and heart and liver damage. However, these effects have not been seen in humans. Atrazine can cause a skin allergy. If an allergy develops, future contact with low levels of atrazine can cause itching and redness.

No specific medical test is recommended following brief, low-level exposures. High-level exposures may require medical treatment right away.

If a person continues to have symptoms after atrazine exposure is stopped, their physician should look for other toxic chemicals that may be causing the symptoms.

Seek medical advice if you have any symptoms that you think may be related to chemical exposure.

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Last revised February 12, 2023