Weed Killers By The Glass
September 1, 1995

Weed Killers By The Glass: Omaha, Nebraska (Missouri River)

Citizen Monitoring Results

Omaha, Nebraska receives its drinking water from two sources, both of which are contaminated with cancer causing weed killers at levels that exceed federal health standards. Finished tap water originating in the Missouri River contains these weed killers at levels that frequently exceed federal standards for at least one herbicide, and tests of city tap water originating in the Missouri River found six different pesticides or metabolites in a single sample. The most common pesticide contaminant is atrazine, which was found in every tap water sample tested between May 25 and July 1, 1995. Cyanazine was found in 83 percent of these same samples. During this test period approximately 3,000 infants in Omaha consumed infant formula reconstituted with water contaminated with multiple toxic weed killers. (Note 1: Ershow, Abby G., and Cantor, Kenneth P. 1989. Total Water and Tapwater Intake in the United States: Population-Based Estimates of Quantities and Sources. Life Sciences Research Office; Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. Bethesda, MD)

Most of these weed killers are used in corn production. Since 1985, taxpayers have subsidized Nebraska corn growers at a rate of $453 million per year, for a ten year total of $4.53 billion. Farmers in turn pay nothing to clean up the water. The pesticide industry claims that farmers' weed control cost would double if these polluting herbicides were banned. Assuming the industry claim is true, the added costs to farmers would amount to just 11 percent of the value of the subsidy taxpayers pay to these corn farmers each year.



Causes mammary gland cancer in female rats in repeated studies.(Note 2: Copley, Marion. 1989. Follow-up to the Third Peer Review of Atrazine. EPA. Washington, D.C.; International Agency for Research on Cancer. 1991. World Health Organization. IARC Monographs on the Evolution of Cancer Risk to Humans. Vol. 53.) Classified by the EPA as a possible human carcinogen. Federal health standard in drinking water -- 3 parts per billion (ppb), European Drinking Water Standard -- 0.1 ppb.


  • Found in 100 percent of 12 tap water samples
  • Highest level found -- 2.90 ppb.
  • Average concentration -- 0.85 ppb.



Causes mammary gland cancer in rats and birth defects in rats and rabbits in repeated studies. Causes genetic mutations. According to the EPA this makes cyanazine a potent carcinogen.(Note 3: Dykstra, William. 1991. Peer Review of Cyanazine (Bladex). EPA. Washington, D.C.) Classified by the EPA as a possible human carcinogen, required birth defects warning on the product label. Federal health guideline in drinking water -- 1 ppb. European Drinking Water Standard -- 0.1 ppb.


  • Found in 83 percent of samples
  • Twenty-five percent of samples were above the federal health advisory.
  • Highest level found -- 4.60 ppb, four and one half times the federal health advisory.
  • Average concentration --1.09 ppb, also above the federal health advisory.


Tests for Multiple Weed Killers


  • Six pesticides or metabolites -- atrazine, cyanazine, metolachlor, alachlor, acetochlor, and desethylatrazine -- were found in a single sample of Omaha Missouri River tap water collected on June 2, 1995.
  • These six pesticides or metabolites include two pesticides classified by EPA as probable human carcinogens, three pesticides classified as possible human carcinogens, one pesticide that causes birth defects in animal studies, and three pesticides that disrupt the normal functioning of the hormone system.
  • Federal drinking water standards do not account for this simultaneous exposure to multiple pesticides (or other contaminants) in drinking water, and allow cancer risks from these weed killers up to 29 times higher than the federal government allows from the same chemicals in food.


Use of 6 Major Herbicides on Nebraska Corn Reached 17 Million Pounds in 1994, up 2.3 Million Pounds Since 1990


Herbicide Acres Treated, 1994 Use, 1994 (lbs.)
Acetochlor 258,000 400,000
Alachlor 2,150,000 2,975,000
Atrazine 6,450,000 6,307,000
Cyanazine 1,634,000 2,664,000
Metolachlor 3,010,000 4,722,000
Simazine 0 0

(Note 4: USDA 1995. Agricultural Chemical Usage: 1994 Field Crops Summary.)