Exposure To This Common Herbicide May Not Harm You Now—But It Could Harm Your Kids And Grandkids

A common chemical sprayed on corn and soybeans can have scary health effects for generations.

October 11, 2017
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soybean field
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Your kids and grandkids inherit the biological traits encoded in your DNA. And if you’re exposed to a common agricultural chemical, they may also inherit a greater risk for a handful of diseases.

That’s the conclusion of a frightening new PLOS ONE study that found rats exposed in the womb to the herbicide atrazine did not suffer from higher rates of disease—but their offspring and grand-offspring did.

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Atrazine is banned in Europe. But in the U.S., the EPA still allows its use, and it’s commonly applied to corn and soybean crops

In the study, Washington State University researchers dosed gestating rats with real-world levels of atrazine. “We used low environmental doses that have been shown to be present in many [human] populations in the Midwest,” says study author Michael Skinner, PhD, a distinguished professor at WSU’s School of Biological Sciences.

(Learn more about why organic farming methods are better for your health in the video below.)

While the exposed rats had lower body weights than rats not exposed to Atrazine, they were otherwise healthy. But their offspring and grand offspring were significantly more likely to develop mammary tumors, testis disease, and early onset puberty than the progeny of non-exposed rats. 

Related: 13 Serious Health Conditions Studies Have Linked To Monsanto's Roundup

In terms of tumor risk, the second-generation rats were more than three-times likelier to develop tumors than the grandkids of non-exposed rats. The kids and grandkids of the exposed rats also demonstrated more behavioral problems, the study shows.

Unfortunately, Skinner says his research is “very likely” to translate to humans. 

What’s going on here? Skinner points to “epigenetic” DNA alterations, which are basically genetic mutations that take a generation or two to show up. (Check out these 6 unexpected diseases you can inherit.) He can’t say for certain what diseases may be more common among people whose direct relatives were exposed, but forms of cancer are a good bet. “The specific disease [risks] may vary depending on the individual,” he says.


Related: 7 Chemical-Free Fixes For All Your Lawn Problems

In the future, he says we’ll likely have tests that can check people for “epigenetic biomarkers,” which could reveal those at increased risk for certain diseases. These people could then make lifestyle changes or engage in therapies in order to lower their risks. 

“But we cannot fix it at this point in time,” he adds. 

For now, the only thing you can do is avoid atrazine exposure—easier said than done if you live in an agricultural community. But there are steps you can take.

Because atrazine has been detected in tap water in many areas of the U.S., especially the Midwest, using a water filter that has been proven to remove atrazine is a great first step—reputable options include the Brita Advanced Faucet Filtration System FF 100 and the 3M Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water System. (Find more water filters that remove atrazine on the Environmental Working Group’s website). 

And while exposure is greatest in agricultural communities, anyone can further reduce their risk of exposure to atrazine by opting for organic produce and packaged foods, especially those containing corn and soy.