WandE: Common Fertilizer Affects Female Fertility

The luxury of fresh, cold drinking water on tap is the norm for most in Midwestern America, not the exception.  Because of this convenience, it’s easy to forget the multitude of factors affecting the health of our drinking water.  Though farmland has decreased with industrialization, “Midwest” still brings to mind images of seemingly endless fields of corn.  The Midwest’s production of staple crops such as corn and soy feeds thousands, but at a price.  In order to profitably grow acres and acres of the same crop, farmers need to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides, like atrazine, to ensure a successful harvest.  Atrazine, used on nearly 75% of corn fields in the U.S., has recently been linked to harmful effects on women’s fertility.

A study published last month in the journal Environmental Research has linked atrazine in tap water to lower estrogen levels and irregularities in menstrual cycles.  Women who were exposed to twice the level of atrazine in their drinking water as the control group were five times more likely to experience these negative effects.  Those who consumed more than two glasses of atrazine-tainted water daily were even more likely to experience menstrual irregularities.  Though EPA regulations limit the permissible amount of atrazine in drinking water to 3 parts per billion, levels recorded during the study were significantly lower than average (0.7 parts per billion) due to drought and decreased storm runoff.  This study demonstrates that this ubiquitous chemical has a significant impact on women’s health at even a fraction of the EPA’s accepted levels.

After a flood of studies linking atrazine to negative health effects such as cancer, the EPA is reviewing whether the pesticide is suitable for use at all.  The European Union has already banned it from agricultural use.  Michigan alone had close to 6,221,500 acres of cultivated cropland in 2007 and it’s likely that much of it was sprayed with the pesticide atrazine.  Through irrigation and rainfall, the chemical is carried into streams and into the water tables we rely on for clean drinking water.

Food production, water quality and health are inextricably linked to one another as shown by atrazine’s effect on women’s fertility.  Ecofeminists are acutely aware of the balance between human actions and our natural ecosystem and, in turn, how the changes to the environment affect the most vulnerable people, who are disproportionately women and the poor.  Atrazine is only one of the many chemicals produced by agricultural and industrial development that ecofeminists seek to eliminate in their fight to strike a more healthy balance between humankind and nature.  By being more aware of what goes into the food and water we consume, we can better understand our relationship with our ecosystem and begin to make more informed decisions that will create a better life for humans and our environment.

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