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France Bans Triazine Herbicides
November 16, 2001
In September 2001, France's Ministry of Agriculture announced a nationwide ban on atrazine and related triazine herbicides due to threats they pose to human health and their "generalized presence" in water supplies.
The ban calls for the withdrawal of atrazine, simazine and cyanazine from the French market by September 30, 2002, and prohibits their use in other products after June 30, 2003. Switzerland's Syngenta AG, Israel's Makteshim and Italy's Sipcam-Oxon are the world's biggest producers of the chemicals, according to France's pesticide industry group. Use restrictions were also announced for the triazine herbicides terbuthylazine, ametryne and terbutryne.
First introduced in France in 1962, triazines are used primarily on maize and sorghum crops but are sometimes used in orchards and vineyards. In 1999, French growers applied atrazine to 100% of sorghum crops and 80% of maize, according to the national farm ministry.
The herbicide atrazine is an endocrine disruptor, inhibiting the functioning of testosterone, progesterone and estrogen. Also, by disrupting the immune system, atrazine enhances the risk of infectious disease and cancer. In laboratory studies, it has been shown to cause genetic damage and delay puberty.
Atrazine's breakdown products can persist in lakes and groundwater for decades. It also has a half-life in soil surfaces of over 100 days and can potentially persist for years below the soil surface.
Recent studies in France found degraded atrazine products in 50% of samples taken from surface water and 52% of groundwater supplies. In recent years, French authorities have ordered people not to drink tap water in areas where triazine content exceeded recommended levels.
In October, the Minister of Agriculture announced a "decision in principle" to ban sodium arsenite, a fungicide used on grapevines, in order to protect human health and the environment. It is not know when a formal ban will be announced. Sodium arsenite is a known carcinogen--possibly linked to an increased risk in testicular cancer--and a developmental toxin.
The ban on triazines and the plans to ban sodium arsenite are part of the French government's policy to reduce significantly the use of pesticides and promote food safety in that country. The French government has announced that "Pesticide use has become a major public issue" and following a government meeting about pesticides last month, France's Health Minister commented that the drinking water of more than 500,000 people in France was "absolutely not drinkable" due to pesticide contamination.
The Minister of Agriculture also reported the government will formally evaluate the risks that pesticides pose to human health and the environment. A joint monitoring program set up by the Ministries of Health, Finance, Agriculture, the Environment will review by 2003 all pesticides used in France that are considered to pose a threat to human health and the environment. If necessary, the government said that use restrictions or bans will be imposed.
In addition to the review, the four ministries and the French food safety agency (Agence Française de Sécurité Sanitaire des Ailments, or AFSSA) will establish a pesticide residue committee composed of consumers, farmers and industry representatives. The committee will oversee regulatory and monitoring issues and collect data for AFSSA to use in assessing potential health risks, with an emphasis on infants and children.
Belgium has also announced that it will ban the sale of atrazine from May 2002 and its use as of June 2002.
Atrazine is one of the two most commonly used agricultural pesticides in the United States. A recent U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study found atrazine in rivers, streams and groundwater in all 36 of the river basins studied. In air or rain, atrazine can also travel long distances from application sites. A USGS compilation of national, state and local monitoring studies revealed that atrazine was found in nearly 100% of sites where rainfall was collected, in some cases in concentrations that exceeded drinking water standards.
For more information on triazine herbicides, visit PAN's Pesticide Database at http://www.pesticideinfo.org.
Sources: PAN Europe Monthly, "National phase-outs of Atrazine and other pesticides" October 2001; Reuters, October 2, 2001, October 16, 2001; Agrow World Crop Protection News, October 26, 2001; Journal of Pesticide Reform "Atrazine: Toxicology" Summer 2001, "Atrazine: Environmental Contamination and Ecological Effects" Fall 2001 available at http://www.pesticide.org/factsheets.html#pesticides.
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