Agricultural Use and Treatment of Atrazine

Water is critical to sustaining life on this planet. Water quality and accessibility challenges are key environmental problems that must be addressed in the 21st century. One area of concern with water quality is non-point source pollution from agriculture-related activities. According to the 2010 Census of Agriculture, there are an estimated 13,843,780 acres of farmland in Kentucky that produce products such as corn, soybeans, livestock and tobacco (National Agriculture Statistics Service, 2009). In fact, during 2009 Kentucky ranked 13th in the nation for corn production according to the Agricultural Statistic Service (2009). Having this many acres devoted to farm use comes with the potential for agricultural sources of pollution. The herbicide atrazine is one such chemical that has received a significant amount of publicity in recent years due to its potential impact associated with human and aquatic life.

Atrazine is an herbicide used to control broadleaf weeds in the production of no-till (where plowing and tilling is required) corn, grain, and popcorn. Atrazine, which was first sold 45 years ago, has become widely used because of its cheap price and efficient results in producing high yield crops. Atrazine is marketed to farmers as both a highly effective and inexpensive product for the eradication of broadleaf weeds in corn.

There have been numerous studies about the use of Atrazine and the effects that it may have on aquatic life. The problems are not from the use of Atrazine, but the lack of education on improper application of this herbicide. Currently there are guidelines that must be followed when properly applying this herbicide in agricultural areas and the applicator must be licensed by the state to apply this chemical. Most water treatment facilities do not have the means to treat for this chemical and only a few in the state of Kentucky actually do.

The most common treatment process for this chemical is through granulated activated carbon (GAC). Granulated carbons are used for water treatment, deodorization and separation of components of flow system. Granular activated carbon is a particularly good adsorbent medium due to its high surface area to volume ratio. One gram of a typical commercial activated carbon will have a surface area equivalent to 1,000 square meters. This high surface area permits the accumulation of a large number of contaminant molecules. Carbon adsorption is an extremely versatile technology. For many water treatment applications it has proved to be the least expensive treatment option. Absorption is particularly effective in treating low concentration waste streams and in meeting stringent treatment levels. This treatment method has been proven to be the most straightforward and cost effective in regards to atrazine. There are innovative studies that are shedding light on new technologies for the treatment of this chemical, but none of these processes have seen the removal rates that activated carbon produces. There are helpful tips about application and guidelines of use concerning atrazine on the Kentucky Department of Agriculture webpage or you can follow this direct link to the Best Management Practices report


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