Assessment of risks to listed species from the use of atrazine in the USA: a perspective

Philip N. Smith, Kevin L. Armbrust, Richard A. Brain, Wenlin Chen, Nika Galic, Lula Ghebremichael, Jeffrey M. Giddings, Mark L. Hanson, Jonathan Maul, Glen Van Der Kraak, Keith R. Solomon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Atrazine is a triazine herbicide used predominantly on corn, sorghum, and sugarcane in the US. Its use potentially overlaps with the ranges of listed (threatened and endangered) species. In response to registration review in the context of the Endangered Species Act, we evaluated potential direct and indirect impacts of atrazine on listed species and designated critical habitats. Atrazine has been widely studied, extensive environmental monitoring and toxicity data sets are available, and the spatial and temporal uses on major crops are well characterized. Ranges of listed species are less well-defined, resulting in overly conservative designations of “May Effect”. Preferences for habitat and food sources serve to limit exposure among many listed animal species and animals are relatively insensitive. Atrazine does not bioaccumulate, further diminishing exposures among consumers and predators. Because of incomplete exposure pathways, many species can be eliminated from consideration for direct effects. It is toxic to plants, but even sensitive plants tolerate episodic exposures, such as those occurring in flowing waters. Empirical data from long-term monitoring programs and realistic field data on off-target deposition of drift indicate that many other listed species can be removed from consideration because exposures are below conservative toxicity thresholds for direct and indirect effects. Combined with recent mitigation actions by the registrant, this review serves to refine and focus forthcoming listed species assessment efforts for atrazine. Abbreviations: a.i. = Active ingredient (of a pesticide product). AEMP = Atrazine Ecological Monitoring Program. AIMS = Avian Incident Monitoring SystemArach. = Arachnid (spiders and mites). AUC = Area Under the Curve. BE = Biological Evaluation (of potential effects on listed species). BO = Biological Opinion (conclusion of the consultation between USEPA and the Services with respect to potential effects in listed species). CASM = Comprehensive Aquatic System Model. CDL = Crop Data LayerCN = field Curve Number. CRP = Conservation Reserve Program (lands). CTA = Conditioned Taste Avoidance. DAC = Diaminochlorotriazine (a metabolite of atrazine, also known by the acronym DACT). DER = Data Evaluation Record. EC25 = Concentration causing a specified effect in 25% of the tested organisms. EC50 = Concentration causing a specified effect in 50% of the tested organisms. EC50RGR = Concentration causing a 50% reduction in relative growth rate. ECOS = Environmental Conservation Online System. EDD = Estimated Daily Dose. EEC = Expected Environmental Concentration. EFED = Environmental Fate and Effects Division (of the USEPA). EFSA = European Food Safety Agency. EIIS = Ecological Incident Information System. ERA = Environmental Risk Assessment. ESA = Endangered Species Act. ESU = Evolutionarily Significant UnitsFAR = Field Application RateFIFRA = Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. FOIA = Freedom of Information Act (request). GSD = Genus Sensitivity Distribution. HC5 = Hazardous Concentration for ≤ 5% of species. HUC = Hydrologic Unit Code. IBM = Individual-Based Model. IDS = Incident Data System. KOC = Partition coefficient between water and organic matter in soil or sediment. KOW = Octanol-Water partition coefficient. LC50 = Concentration lethal to 50% of the tested organisms. LC-MS-MS = Liquid Chromatograph with Tandem Mass Spectrometry. LD50 = Dose lethal to 50% of the tested organisms. LAA = Likely to Adversely Affect. LOAEC = Lowest-Observed-Adverse-Effect Concentration. LOC = Level of Concern. MA = May Affect. MATC = Maximum Acceptable Toxicant Concentration. NAS = National Academy of Sciences. NCWQR = National Center of Water Quality Research. NE = No Effect. NLAA = Not Likely to Adversely Affect. NMFS = National Marine Fisheries Service. NOAA = National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAEC = No-Observed-Adverse-Effect Concentration. NOAEL = No-Observed-Adverse-Effect Dose-Level. OECD = Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. PNSP = Pesticide National Synthesis Project. PQ = Plastoquinone. PRZM = Pesticide Root Zone Model. PWC = Pesticide in Water Calculator. QWoE = Quantitative Weight of Evidence. RGR = Relative growth rate (of plants). RQ = Risk Quotient. RUD = Residue Unit Doses. SAP = Science Advisory Panel (of the USEPA). SGR = Specific Growth Rate. SI = Supplemental Information. SSD = Species Sensitivity Distribution. SURLAG = Surface Runoff Lag Coefficient. SWAT = Soil & Water Assessment Tool. SWCC = Surface Water Concentration Calculator. UDL = Use Data Layer (for pesticides). USDA = United States Department of Agriculture. USEPA = United States Environmental Protection Agency. USFWS = United States Fish and Wildlife Service. USGS = United States Geological Survey. WARP = Watershed Regressions for Pesticides.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-306
Number of pages84
JournalJournal of Toxicology and Environmental Health - Part B: Critical Reviews
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2021


  • atrazine
  • direct effects
  • endangered species
  • environmental exposures
  • indirect effects
  • risk assessment


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