A statewide coalition organized by Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger is calling for a comprehensive ban or other significant action to protect expectant mothers and infants from exposure to the herbicide atrazine in groundwater.

“The current approach consistently remands action only after an exposure to unsafe levels of atrazine in residential well water has occurred,” the groups wrote in public comments to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) – the agency responsible for protecting groundwater from contamination by pesticides and fertilizers. “We are particularly concerned that this approach may not be protective of pregnant mothers and infants as even short term exposure to high levels of atrazine at a critical time in prenatal and early childhood development may cause significant harm.”

The use of atrazine, or any farm chemicals containing it, has already been banned in more than 1.2 million acres in Wisconsin. DATCP recently proposed expansion of atrazine restrictions for 1,430 acres in Sauk County near Prairie du Sac and 8,140 acres in the Columbia County towns of Marcellon and Wyocena. Test results showing unsafe levels of atrazine in drinking water wells in the area and a follow-up environmental investigation prompted the proposed prohibition areas.

According to the federal health agency ATSDR, atrazine may affect pregnant women by causing their babies to grow more slowly than normal. Birth defects and liver, kidney, and heart damage have been seen in animals exposed to high levels of atrazine. In pregnant animals, exposure to atrazine causes a decrease in fetal growth and birth defects. Exposure to high levels of atrazine during pregnancy caused reduced survival of fetuses. It is unclear whether or at what level of exposure this might occur in humans.

“It is time for a new approach which prevents exposures to those most vulnerable to harm,” the coalition’s November 4 letter concludes.

Organizations signing the letter include Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger, Physicians for Social Responsibility Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates, Tribal Environmental Watch Alliance, Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, Concerned Citizens of Newport, Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, Family Farm Defenders, Crawford Stewardship Project, Kickapoo Peace Circle, Madison Audubon Society, Healthy Lawn Team and the John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club.