New Studies Confirm Dangers of Atrazine

From: Robina Suwol
Date: 12 Jan 2003
Time: 02:55:28
Remote Name:


New Studies Confirm Dangers of Atrazine, a Widely Used Agricultural Weed-Killer NRDC calls for investigation of possible cover-up by atrazine manufacturer. It's the nation's most widely used weed-killer, applied liberally by farmers throughout the Midwest. But according to two new studies, it's not safe. One study shows that atrazine, sprayed heavily on corn as well as other crops, causes sexual abnormalities in frogs. The other study found that the herbicide is linked to high rates of prostate cancer among workers at an atrazine production plant. Almost as disturbing, the largest manufacturer of atrazine, a Swiss-owned firm named Syngenta -- formed by the 2000 merger of Novartis and Zeneca -- may have illegally suppressed the studies' findings. The frog study became public only after the scientist doing the research ended his contract with Syngenta and conducted his experiment independently. Syngenta itself conducted the second study at its Louisiana manufacturing plant. But after collecting data that suggests a link between atrazine and prostate cancer among its own workers, the company apparently kept the information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for years. Last summer, NRDC learned of the study and blew the whistle, informing the EPA. Now NRDC is calling for the EPA to launch a criminal investigation of Syngenta's possible cover-up and take atrazine off the market. A Poison in Our Midst? Atrazine is the most widely used herbicide in the United States, with more than 60 million pounds applied annually. Corn farmers in the Midwest apply much of that tonnage, which works its way into local waterways and spreads throughout the Mississippi River basin. Millions of Americans drink atrazine in their tap water, often at peak levels during the spring, when farmers apply it to their fields. Atrazine-poisoned water is not limited to the Midwest, however. The chemical is found in drinking water across the country, in part because it is transported by rain and fog. Past studies have built a strong case that atrazine is unsafe for humans. Some of these studies have found that the herbicide disrupts the production of normal human hormones, and others have concluded that it is associated with a higher incidence of cancer in both humans and laboratory animals. Several European countries, including France, Germany and Italy, have banned atrazine. Farmers there use safer alternatives, as do many in the United States. The U.S. EPA, however, has not followed suit. To the contrary, the agency permits atrazine levels in drinking water to rise and fall over the course of the year, so long as the yearly average remains below 3 parts per billion. But seasonal spikes are often much higher. Even more troubling, in June 2000, the EPA Scientific Advisory Panel voted to recommend that atrazine be reclassified as "not likely" to be a human carcinogen, or that there is "not enough information to classify." In doing so, the panel contradicted EPA career scientists, who had recommended that atrazine be classified as a "likely" human carcinogen. Among the cited reasons for the recommendation: "limited data were available for review." For a number of years before the EPA panel's debate over atrazine and cancer, workers at Syngenta's atrazine production facility in St. Gabriel, La., were getting prostate cancer at 3½ times the region's average rate. The company apparently did not report these cancers to the EPA until it submitted a study of its workers late last year. In addition, Tyrone Hayes, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, found that frogs exposed to low levels of atrazine were suffering from severe sexual deformities. Had the EPA panel known the results of these two studies, it likely would have reached a different conclusion about atrazine's dangers. The EPA is expected to rule on atrazine's status as early as August 2002.

Last changed: March 14, 2006