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Popular weed killer disrupts frogs' sexual development

yes said. "Because it is so widespread, aquatic environments are at risk." Because the herbicide has been in use for 40 years in some 80 countries, its effect on sexual development in male frogs could be one of many factors in the global decline of amphibians, he added.

The findings come at a time when the EPA is re-evaluating allowable levels of atrazine in drinking water, which stand today at 3 parts per billion (ppb), and has drafted new criteria for the protection of aquatic life, limiting four-day average exposures to 12 ppb. Hayes found hermaphroditism in frogs at levels as low as 0.1 ppb. Even with today's limits, levels of 40 ppb atrazine have been measured in rain and spring water in parts of the Midwest, while atrazine in agricultural runoff can be present at several parts per million.

The herbicide also contaminates drinking water supplies in many communities in the Midwest, leading some environmental groups to voice concern about its effect on children, infants and the fetus. France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Norway are among countries that have banned the use of atrazine.

To date, atrazine's effects on mammals and amphibians have been tested only at large doses, not at doses commonly found in the environment.

In their journal article, Hayes and his colleagues write, "the effective doses in the current study ... demonstrate the sensitivity of amphibians relative to other taxa, validate the use of amphibians as sensitive environmental monitors/sentinels, and raise real concern for amphibians in the wild." Hayes doubts that atrazine has such severe effects on humans, because the herbicide does not accumulate in tissue and humans don't spend their lives in water like frogs do.

Nevertheless, the effects of atrazine on frogs could be a sign that the herbicide is subtly affecting human sex hormones, too, interfering with androgens, such as testosterone, that control male sex charact
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-8070
National Science Foundation
16-Apr-2002


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