Herbicide illegal in Europe found in Montreal drinking water at alarming levels: environmental group

Environmental groups say they have tested Montreal's drinking water and found an herbicide at levels considered unsafe and illegal in Europe.

Environmental Defence and Équiterre commissioned the test of the drinking water supply for both Montreal and Toronto, and say concentrations of atrazine were found above the legal safety levels defined by the European Union. The herbicide was banned in the E.U. in 2004.

“It is alarming that Canadians are being exposed to levels of atrazine considered dangerous by other countries. The European Union banned atrazine 13 years ago," Équiterre Executive Director Sidney Ribaux said in a statement. "Why can’t Health Canada offer similar protections to Canadians?” 

Atrazine is one of the most common herbicides used in the US, but there have been concerns over the years that exposure could cause cancer, birth defects in newborns and hormonal imbalances in girls during puberty. 

There have been no definitive clinical links made to any of these possible effects, but some health experts are still wary of its use.

“Even at concentrations close to the European standard, several effects of atrazine on amphibians and animals have been demonstrated, including impacts on reproduction and development," said Maryse Bouchard, Associate Professor at the School of Public Health of the University of Montréal. "Some studies also suggest harmful effects on human reproduction and development at concentrations in water similar to those analyzed in the Montreal and Toronto tap water samples."

The environmental groups say the findings are alarming, and are calling on Health Canada to ban atrazine country-wide.

The level of atrazine found in Montreal's drinking supply were lower than the maximum acceptable concentrations outlined in the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines.