Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.
- Atrazine controversy heats up
- Entomologists testify: LBAM eradication is wasted effort
- DuPont & BLM found negligent in herbicide case
- "Safe" levels of atrazine in drinking water linked to low birth weight
- Bayer to cut MIC stockpile in Institute, WV
- NGOs call for Philippines aerial spray ban
In the last week, the New York Times, Huffington Post, Washington Post and Peoria Journal Star have all run features covering an emerging scandal around atrazine contamination in the U.S. water supply. Atrazine is a widely used herbicide that was banned by the EU in 2004. Around that time, Syngenta (atrazine’s manufacturer) held over 50 private meetings with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulators who were then reconsidering atrazine’s registration. Independent scientists and health advocates enjoyed considerably less access to decision-makers, and no peer-review access to the Syngenta-sponsored science that informed EPA’s ruling. Since then, a growing body of research has linked atrazine with birth defects, low birth weights (see below) and certain forms of cancer. Epidemiological studies indicate that very low level fetal exposure at key periods (via a pregnant woman drinking water contaminated well below the legal limit) may interrupt critical developmental processes, resulting in skull and facial malformations and misshapen limbs.
WhatsOnMyFood? finds atrazine in 94% of U.S. drinking water – and the highest levels of contamination are in the Midwest where it is widely used on corn fields. While local water systems are required to test for atrazine on no more than a quarterly basis, the EPA requires Syngenta to test weekly at 150 vulnerable watersheds. The former generally find levels below the legal contamination limit of 3 parts per billion (ppb), but the latter, more frequent testing finds spikes to concentrations many times over the legal limit. For instance, residents in McClure, Ohio were told that their highest level of contamination in 2008 was 3.4 ppb, while hitherto undisclosed EPA/Syngenta results for June show atrazine contamination at 33.83 ppb — more than ten times the legal limit.
While the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) wraps up a series of public meetings on its Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Report on plans to "eradicate" the light brown apple moth (LBAM), Senator Dean Florez convened an Agriculture Committee hearing in Sacramento Tuesday. The CDFA report rejects all approaches that would only manage the moth, rather than eradicate it as required by USDA, including classical biocontrol and other ecological methods used in other countries. According to Associated Press coverage in the Mercury News, at the hearing a panel of scientists told Senators that the question shouldn't be which methods would work, but whether the LBAM presents a real threat and whether it can be eradicated, "'It should be viewed less as an invasion in progress and more as an invasion that is completed,' said James Carey, professor and former vice chair of the Department of Entomology at UC-Davis. 'It's an established species. It can't be eradicated.' Eradication programs never have been successful in abolishing moths, said Carey." Community activists at the hearing said the threat of chemical treatments was to people and animals, not the LBAM. As CDFA expands the areas where traps are placed, small numbers of LBAM are found and quarantines on shipping produce are declared. David Chatfield, director of Californians for Pesticide Reform, testified at the hearing on behalf of the coalition and Pesticide Action Network: "It is the quarantines, not the moth itself, that are hurting and will continue to hurt farmers." CDFA was invited to testify but didn't appear, claiming that it was inappropriate while comments were still being accepted. PAN, CPR, Pesticide Watch, Stop the Spray and other groups have petitioned USDA to reclassify LBAM as a non-actionable pest.
"A federal jury has found the Bureau of Land Management [BLM] and E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co. negligent in the use of an herbicide blamed for damaging thousands of acres of crops across a broad swath of southern Idaho," according to an Associated Press story published August 24 in the New York Times. BLM used "the powerful herbicide Oust [sulfometuron methyl] to control invasive weeds on public lands burned by wildfires in 1999 and 2000…. The verdict reached Monday in U.S. District Court in Boise also found DuPont responsible for selling a product that was defective and unreasonably dangerous and lacking adequate warnings." The drifting herbicide destroyed potato, sugar beet, grain and corn crops of 130 farmers, making the farmland unproductive from 2000 through 2004. While BLM claims that Oust has proven essential to manage invasive weeds in forest and prairie ecosystems, as of 2002 at least 73 weed species were known to be resistant to the herbicide according to the International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds. The case now moves to consider damages. DuPont lawyers say they plan to appeal.
Underscoring the threat posed by the atrazine contamination discussed above is a study published earlier this month in Environmental Health Perspectives. Hugo Ochoa-Acuña and coworkers from Purdue University analyzed more than 24,000 Indiana birth records, calculating each mother’s to exposure to atrazine from drinking water based on her home address. They found that the risk of having a low-birth-weight baby increased as atrazine levels in the mother’s tap water increased. Specifically, the prevalence of small-for-gestation-age births was 17-19% higher among women whose water had greater than 0.1 ppb atrazine during the third trimester versus women with less than 0.1 ppb atrazine in their water. An earlier study of Iowa births found a similar effect. Babies born small-for-gestation-age (defined as a birth weight lower than 90% of babies born at the same gestation age) have an increased risk of sickness and of dying within their first year. The EPA considers atrazine levels in drinking water to be safe as long as the yearly average level is lower than 3 ppb. "Scientists and health advocates have been saying for years that the EPA's Maximum Contaminant Level for atrazine is too permissive, and this latest study just proves that point," explains Pesticide Action Network staff scientist Karl Tupper.
On Wednesday, Bayer CropScience announced it would cut storage of methyl isocyanate (MIC) at its Institute, West Virginia plant by 80%, the New York Times reports. MIC, used to produce the pesticide thiodicarb, was the chemical released at Union Carbide's facility in Bhopal in 1984. Two workers were killed in an explosion at the West Virginia plant last year in an incident that could have released a far greater amount of MIC than in the Bhopal disaster. On April 21, 2009, Rep. Henry Waxman (D – CA) opened a Congressional hearing into that latest of several explosions at the plant saying: "Twenty-five years after the catastrophe in India, I think it's finally time to ask whether it makes sense to allow Bayer to continue producing and storing such massive amounts of this highly toxic chemical." The hearing revealed that Bayer had removed and destroyed evidence to keep information surrounding the explosion secret. "'Any measures by Bayer to reduce the inventory of MIC at the facility are a positive development,'" said John Bresland, chair of the federal Chemical Safety Board. The agency is to release a final report on the 2008 incident next year. "I guess a reduction is a good thing, but the danger still exists," Maya Nye, spokeswoman for the local group, People Concerned About MIC, told the Times.
Four international NGOs, including Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN-AP), have joined regional federations and local residents in "the outcry calling for banning pesticides in the aerial spraying of banana plantations in Mindanao," reports The Philippines' Business Monitor. The NGOs are asking the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to immediately halt spraying in the latest of a years-long campaign. In March a bill to ban aerial spraying of hazardous substances, including pesticides, was filed in The Philippines Senate. The regional Kauban-Mindanao federation movement has been asking agencies to implement the ban consistent with 2006 guidance from the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM), an international agreement to which the Philippines is a signatory. "PAN-AP executive director Sarojeni Rengam said, 'As the lead agency for SAICM, we urge DENR Secretary Atienza to heed the cry of the people in Davao City and strongly uphold the rights of the people and nature not to be drenched and poisoned with toxic chemicals.'” Joining PAN-AP in the campaign are the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), Greenpeace Southeast Asia, and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). “'Banning the aerial spraying of dangerous chemical pesticides is the only solution toward preventing chemical pollution and reducing chemical risks. It will hopefully induce the industry into switching to environmentally sound and safer substitutes, including nonchemical alternatives to managing pests,' said Australia-based Mariann Lloyd Smith, co-chair of IPEN. Smith also said ecologically produced food is gaining market investment attraction in Japan, the main destination of commercially grown Cavendish bananas, and elsewhere as consumers become more conscious about food safety and human rights."
Bookmark and share this page:<>