Atrazine Class Action Lawsuit Over Drinking Water Contamination Settled

A settlement for $105 million has been reached in a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of millions of Americans whose drinking water was allegedly contaminated by the weed killer atrazine. 

Last week, U.S. District Judge J. Phil Gilbert gave preliminary approval to a plan that would lead to Syngenta AG and its U.S. subsidiary paying $105 million to community systems that distribute water to about 52 million Americans.

Finalization of the agreement would end an atrazine class action lawsuit against Syngenta brought by multiple municipalities and states. The judge also granted the lawsuit class action status at the same time.

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Community water systems have reportedly discovered atrazine contaminating the drinking water of one-in-six Americans. The settlement money would be divided up proportionally, with the most money going to those community water systems that have higher amounts of atrazine in their water supply.

Atrazine (ethylamine and isopropylamine) is a widely used herbicide, with more than 70 million pounds used in agriculture every year in the United States.

The weed killer has been banned by the European Union due to how easily it contaminates waterways and drinking water supplies. It has also been held in suspicion by critics due to its effects on species such as amphibians, and the growing body of evidence that it causes a variety of birth defects.

The lawsuit alleged that runoff from crop fields sprayed with atrazine contaminated streams and waterways that contribute to a number of communities’ drinking water supplies. To remove the chemical, cities must purchase expensive carbon filters.

In February 2010, a study was released that linked atrazine to a birth defect known as gastroschisis, which involves an abdominal wall defect that causes some of an infant’s organs, usually intestines, to develop outside of the body. Researchers found that gastrochisis was more common among infants born to mothers who lived within 15.5 miles of a water body that was found to have high levels of atrazine contamination. They also found that the closer the mother lived to the contaminated water source, the more likely the risk of a birth defect, and that the defects were more prevalent among mothers who conceived in the spring, when atrazine use is at its highest.

Syngenta has rejected the findings of the study, maintaining that atrazine does not cause birth defects or reproductive problems. Despite agreeing to settle the atrazine class action, the company continues to deny liability in the water contamination case as well.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry indicates that atrazine at high levels causes birth defects in animals.


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