I keep a water purifier in my refrigerator, but I drink tap water without trepidation. When I take a dip in a lake, my biggest fear is a hungry fish nibbling my toes. I am not alone. Most Americans drink water out of the tap and engage in water sports without hesitation, but a report on atrazine released this month by the National Resource Defense Council says our water may not be as safe as we think.
Atrazine is a weed killer used in agriculture, and on golf courses and lawns. The herbicide is banned in the European Union because it easily penetrates ground water, yet use of it in the US is widespread. The NRDC estimates that between 60 and 80 million pounds of atrazine are used in the US each year, and 54 water systems have seen one-time peaks in atrazine levels above what the EPA deems safe for human consumption.
The New York Times reports recent studies indicate when humans are exposed to even small amounts of atrazine, they risk serious health problems. Jennifer Sass, senior scientist at the NRDC, says atrazine is believed to be an endocrine disrupting chemical. This means that low levels of atrazine could interfere with our reproductive hormones.
The NRDC is requesting that the EPA increase regulation of atrazine, and that farmers slowly phase it out of use. However, until this happens, you may want to invest in a water purifier for your kitchen. Most faucet filters and some pitchers filter atrazine, and can be found for as little as $20 (check out Pur's pdf showing the contaminants filtered by their different products). There are also shower filters available, although these tend to be more expensive. Double check the product labels to be sure they filter atrazine.
Another way to avoid contact with atrazine is to buy organic, so you aren't ingesting residue left on the produce. Your money will go to organic farmers, rather than supporting the farmers who continue to douse crops in pesticides and contaminate your water.
You can also help the NRDC in their research by contacting your local water utility, asking the questions the NRDC lists for you and returning the results to them.