EPA Considers Ban on Atrazine Herbicide; Should Have Heeded Whistleblowers Long Ago

atrazine_shallow_gw_mar08March 2008This week, the EPA is holding a four-day public meeting on what to do about the environmentally unfriendly atrazine – one of the most commonly used herbicides in the U.S. (primarily on corn, sugarcane, and rice).

Increasing evidence linking atrazine exposure (e.g. via groundwater contamination) to endocrine disruption, reproductive effects, and cancer have caused environmental groups to call for a federal ban on its use and production – a move the EPA is finally reconsidering after it maintained approval almost a decade ago.

Although the chemical was banned in the European Union in 2004, about 80 million pounds are used every year in the states, thanks to the powerful pesticide industry lobby.

A number of whistleblowers have raised concerns regarding atrazine over the years, only to be fired or discredited after their attempted truth-telling:

  • Dr. Tyrone Hayes, a biologist from the University of California-Berkeley, was hired in 1998 by the company EcoRisk to research the effects of atrazine on amphibians for Syngenta (Switzerland-based maker of atrazine). He found that extremely low doses of atrazine – 30 times lower than 3 parts per billion, the federal drinking water standard for atrazine – caused severe health problems, including a kind of "chemical castration" in male frogs. Syngenta blocked Dr. Hayes from publishing the data, however, and even when he reproduced the studies on his own, EcoRisk responded with supposedly contradictory findings in an attempt to discredit him.
  • Former hydrologist Paul Wotzka was fired in 2007 from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency after he asked to testify about his atrazine research before a state legislative committee. His research showed levels as high as 30 ppb in the state's Whitewater River after storm events.
  • Dawn Forsythe, the former chief lobbyist for Sandoz Inc. (now Syngenta), revealed in a 2009 interview how pesticide companies "rely on manipulating farmers to extend the regulatory life of pesticides." Forsythe left the company in 1996 after realizing this and becoming disenchanted.

Let's hope the words of these key insiders will, at last, be taken seriously. Agribusiness interests have taken precedent over public health and the voices of whistleblowers for far too long.

This week's Scientific Advisory Panel meeting will be held at the Environmental Protection Agency in Arlington, VA on June 12-14, 2012 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on June 15, 2012 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.


Comments (2)

  1. Thanks for this article, Sarah, I did not know about the difficulties experienced by researchers in their work to alert the community about the dangers of atrazine. At The Weeds Network we research alternative weed controlling and/or preventing methods - for example, steam, heat, cover crops. biocontrol. Best regards, Dr David Low.:-)
  2. The EPA should definitely ban atrazine, and should have done so years ago. Endocrine disrupting chemicals are not good for people! Companies with a financial interest in this chemical should not be considered when public health is at stake.

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