The Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday it is reviewing the health impacts of an herbicide known as atrazine, a widely used weed killer that recent studies have tied to birth defects, low birth weight and premature babies.

The EPA said it is reviewing the risks of the herbicide and whether new restrictions are necessary to better protect public health. As part of the study, the EPA said it will use data produced since 2003 and the agency will seek input from an independent panel.

Our examination of atrazine will be based on transparency and sound science, including independent scientific peer review, and will help determine whether a change in EPA's regulatory position on this pesticide is appropriate, said Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances.

Atrazine is used to control broadleaf and grassy weeds and is primarily used on corn, sorghum, and sugarcane. It is used mostly in the Midwest. The concern is that the chemical can contaminate the water supply and can cause health problems even at low levels.

Syngenta AG, a manufacturer of atrazine, has long defended its safety. The firm has said it is one of the best studied herbicides available and pointed to prior safety reviews from the EPA and World Health Organization, among others.