Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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- Midwest farmers stand up to Syngenta
- Atrazine releases stress hormones that may harm reproduction
- Bayer pesticide banned 'for the bees'
Family farm groups across the Midwest are calling on the EPA to prioritize independent science as the agency begins reviewing atrazine. In a letter sent to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson today, over a dozen groups maintain that only a completely transparent process that rejects biased research produced by the herbicide’s primary manufacturer, Syngenta, will result in a review that serves the interests of farmers, the general public and the environment. “As farmers on the front line of chemical exposure we need EPA to make science-based decisions in the interest of our health, our family’s health and the health of our community,” said Paul Sobocinski, a southwest Minnesota crop and livestock farmer. “Unfortunately, EPA has a track record of allowing agrichemical companies like Syngenta to hijack the process with bad science.”
The letter to Jackson was accompanied by a new report, The Syngenta Corporation & Atrazine: The Cost to the Land, People & Democracy (PDF), jointly produced by the Minnesota-based Land Stewardship Project (LSP) and Pesticide Action Network (PAN). The report provides farmers with information about the health risks of atrazine, and documents Syngenta’s attempts to suppress science. It also features real-world examples of farmers who are raising corn without the herbicide. Since it first went on the U.S. market over 50 years ago, atrazine has become one of the most widely used herbicides in the country. Today, atrazine is one of the most common pesticide contaminants in U.S. surface and groundwater. Because most farmers and other rural residents in the Midwest get their drinking water directly from private wells that tap into groundwater, they and their families are particularly vulnerable to atrazine contamination in water.
Recent media exposure has alerted the public to the prevalence of atrazine contamination of U.S. water supplies. Between 1998 and 2003, an estimated seven million people were exposed to atrazine in their treated drinking water at levels above state or federal health-based limits. Atrazine is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it can interact with the hormone system and have negative health impacts at extremely low levels of exposure -- levels well below what the federal government considers "safe". In October 2009, EPA officially reopened an examination of atrazine, despite the fact that it had been reviewed and approved for continued use in 2003. The agency will spend the next year reviewing the health and environmental risks of the chemical.
“Syngenta has a track record of interfering with and undermining the scientific review process at EPA,” said Kathryn Gilje, Executive Director at Pesticide Action Network North America. “This is simply wrong. It puts farmers and the public at risk, and we want to be sure it doesn’t happen this time around. That's why we are being very explicit up front about what needs to happen in this review: we need a public, transparent process with no closed-door meetings of any kind; Syngenta-funded science should be discounted as biased; all science that informs decision-making should be made publicly available for scrutiny and peer review. And if and when atrazine's health risks (PDF) are made clear to regulators, EPA should take swift and clear action to protect farmers and the public."
Help spread the word: Comment on Grist's coverage of the report.
A new study by the EPA's Office of Research and Development sheds more light on how it is that the popular corn herbicide atrazine works to harm reproductive health, according to Environmental Health News. As the second most popular pesticide in the U.S., atrazine has contaminated our streams, lakes, and aquifers so thoroughly that it's found in a large majority of water samples tested by the government. Excepting spikes a few times per year around spring plantings, contaminations levels are generally below the EPA's level of concern (3 parts per billion). Nonetheless, these levels are a concern because atrazine is an endocrine disruptor and endocrine disruptors are known to disrupt hormonal systems at very low levels of exposure. Exposure to even tiny amounts of endocrine disruptors can have devastating effects -- especially on reproduction -- because the hormones they mimic are typically only present in the body in miniscule amounts to begin with. The EPA scientists found that a single dose of atrazine induced the release of stress hormones in female rats, a response similar to what's seen when rats are restrained against their will. The cascade of hormones is known to hamper other hormones that are needed for ovulation. The researchers also found that rats exposed to a metabolite of atrazine reacted similarly, as did rats fed repeated doses of smaller amounts of atrazine. They suggested that their results could explain changes in female reproductive function seen in other studies of atrazine.
(EDITORIAL NOTE: An earlier version of this item mistakenly refered to Environmental Health News as Environmental Health Perspectives. This version has been corrected; PANUPS regrets the error.)
A victory in the ongoing battle against corporate control over public policy and scientific research agendas was handed down in New York last week by federal court judge Denise Cote. As a result of the lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Xerces Society, sales of spirotetramat, a pesticide toxic to honeybees, are banned starting January 15th. Bayer CropScience markets spirotetramat under the trade names Movento and Ultor. Spirotetramat has been shown in Bayer’s own studies to cause “significant mortality” to bee larvae and inhibit the production of eggs. Bayer pushed to get Movento and Ultor approved for use by the EPA in 2008 without advance notice or the opportunity for public comment required by the EPA’s own regulations; neither the application nor approval was ever published in the Federal Register. U.S. EPA also failed to conduct the required analysis of economic, environmental and social costs of the pesticides, relying on Bayer’s studies instead. According to NRDC, “EPA admitted to approving the pesticide illegally, but argued that its violations of the law should have no consequences. The Court disagreed and ordered the pesticide to be taken off the market until it has been properly evaluated. Bayer should not be permitted," NRDC concluded, "to run what amounts to an uncontrolled experiment on bees across the country without full consideration of the consequences.” The USDA estimates that bees pollinate $15 million worth of crops in the U.S. each year. One in every three mouthfuls of food we consume is connected to bee pollination.
*Updated and corrected, Jan. 11, 2009