Archive for the ‘Atrazine’ Category

How a Big Agribusiness Firm Infiltrated the EPA and Made a Mockery of Science By Kamil Ahsan for AlterNet

Expensive coverups have kept a dangerous chemical in America’s water supply.

June 5, 2014

Earlier this year, in an exposé in The New Yorker, Rachel Aviv detailed the story of Syngenta, an agribusiness firm that was sued by the community water systems of six states in a class-action lawsuit over the firm’s herbicide atrazine.

Atrazine is the second most commonly used herbicide in the US and is used on more than 50% of all corn crops. It is one of Syngenta’s most profitable chemicals with sales at over $300 million a year. Banned in the EU, atrazine remains on the market in the US despite scores of scientific publications demonstrating its role in abnormal sexual development. Almost insoluble in water, atrazine contaminates drinking water supplies at 30 times the concentration demonstrated to cause severe sexual abnormalities in animal models.

Recently unsealed court documents from the lawsuit have disclosed how Syngenta launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to disrepute and suppress scientific research, and influence the US Environmental Protection Agency to prevent a ban on atrazine.

Tyrone Hayes, a professor of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley has demonstrated in his research that atrazine leads to health problems, reproductive issues and birth defects. Hayes is a vocal proponent of legislative action to ban the dissemination of atrazine in water supplies. The court documents showed that Syngenta specifically attacked Hayes’ work with its smear campaign.

In addition to smear campaigns, Syngenta hired a private detective agency to look into the personal backgrounds of scientists on an advisory panel at the EPA, the judge presiding over the lawsuit, and Hayes. The documents also reveal a host of third-party organizations and independent “experts” who were on Syngenta’s payroll and supplied with Syngenta’s data in order to make public statements or write op-ed pieces in support of atrazine. Often, these experts were supplied directly with material that company employees edited or wrote.

Syngenta’s Coverup

It all started in 1997 when Hayes was employed by Syngenta to study atrazine, which was under review by the EPA. Hayes’ experimental research on the developmental growth of frogs began to reveal that even at levels of atrazine as low as 0.1 parts per billion (ppb), the chemical was capable of causing males to develop as hermaphrodites. Some males developed female organs and were even capable of mating with normal males and producing eggs. As reported in top peer-reviewed journals such as PNAS and Nature, at exposure to 0.1 ppb atrazine the frogs showed extremely reduced levels of testosterone and feminized voice boxes.

As Hayes amassed data, Syngenta downplayed his results, citing problems with statistics or asking him to repeat studies, often nitpicking or questioning his credibility or scientific skills.

In 2000, Hayes resigned from the panel. He continued to speak at conferences, publicizing his ongoing research in the lab. Meanwhile, Syngenta employees began to show up at conferences to publicly besmirch his data. Sporadically, the campaign turned into threats of violence. In a Democracy Now interview with Amy Goodman, Hayes said:

“Tim Pastoor, for example, before I would give a talk, would literally threaten, whisper in my ear that he could have me lynched, or he said he would send some of his ‘good ol’ boys to show me what it’s like to be gay,’ or at one point he threatened my wife and my daughter with sexual violence.”

Shockingly, even though Syngenta settled the lawsuit for $105 million in late 2012 after eight years of litigation, it still maintains that amount of atrazine present in the water is much lower than would be required to cause damage. In an article in Forbes published a week after the New Yorker story, Jon Entine criticized Hayes and claimed that “after numerous follow up studies by the EPA and a score of scientists… evidence of endocrine related problems Hayes claimed to have identified… are nowhere to be found.”

This is a patently false assertion. A mere scientific literature search shows dozens of peer-reviewed articles showing atrazine-induced defects in animal models. A number of papers on salmon and fish find similar results to those in frog: fish exposed to atrazine showed major reproductive abnormalities in both males and females, low sperm counts and low testosterone levels in males. Similar defects have been observed in reptiles. Research in rats has demonstrated decreased fertility, effects on sperm count, increased prostate disease in males and poor mammary development. A collaborative effort of an international team of scientists confirmed these studies by demonstrating feminization of male gonads across vertebrate species.

All signs point toward the same being true for humans. Said Hayes:

“A number of epidemiological studies in humans have associated atrazine with impaired reproduction and a decline in sperm count and fertility. Another study looking at increased prostrate disease in workers who are exposed to atrazine in the production plant in St. Gabriel, Louisiana. A number of studies now show birth defects in humans exposed to atrazine: gastroschisis where the intestines are on the outside of the baby when it’s born, choanal atresia, an effect where the oral cavity and the nasal cavity close up. Most recently, there’s been work showing atrazine associating with three different types of genital abnormalities in males.”

Corruption Within the EPA

Interestingly, the scientific advisory panel to the EPA recognizes this wealth of scientific data. In a memo from the 2012 review the advisory panel repeatedly calls attention to the biased methodology employed by the EPA. In fact, the advisory panel disagreed with almost every conclusion the EPA made.

Hayes explained: “The panel was only making recommendations, they don’t make decisions and so the EPA doesn’t need to listen to them. This really undermines the role of the scientific advisory panel.”

Syngenta was closely involved with the EPA’s decision. The EPA mainly considered just one study that found inconclusive effects of atrazine. This was the sole premise for the EPA’s decision. It was based on the research of a group led by Kloas Werner. Said Hayes:

“Kloas Werner was originally on the EPA scientific advisory panel that I presented my data to. He at that time was hired by Syngenta and subsequent to being on the panel he conducted a study in collaboration with the EPA and Syngenta and reported back to the panel that he was on. The panel’s conclusion was that more work needed to be done, and then he presented back to that panel. Essentially, his previous decision helped him get the money for his study. Furthermore, they selected a strain of frogs that don’t respond even to estrogen, which was acknowledged by the advisory panel which reviewed their work.”

But Syngenta wasn’t satisfied with bad science and corruption within the EPA. As Syngenta was hiring Werner, a scientific advisory panel member who could sway the EPA review process, it also held scores of closed-door meetings with panel members. As the documents reveal, Syngenta also hired a communications consultancy, the White House Writers’ Group, to set up meetings with members of Congress and Washington bigwigs to discuss upcoming EPA reviews.

The information about Syngenta’s misdeeds has had little to no effect. The fiction that Hayes is a scientific hack continues to pervade the work of pro-Syngenta writers like Entine. These columnists, who write from corporation-apologist perspectives, bolster the fiction by glossing over critiques of the EPA and pretending like its conclusions represent uncontroversial scientific consensus.

Time and time again, these “third-party allies” of Syngenta hyperbolically talk about the “scientific method,” and suggest that science is science, regardless of the angle of the investigator (none have much to say about Werner’s estrogen-insensitive frogs). For them, it seems, there is no conceivable way Syngenta employed techniques that would furnish them with results to protect its multimillion-dollar profits.

In other words, for them, “conflict of interest” means nothing. Scientific publishing is uncompromising about this: journals require the disclosure of conflicts of interest in publications. Obviously, political and financial incentives are sufficient criteria to change scientific results because they deeply influence the way experimenters do science.

Unsurprisingly, the Kloas paper failed to declare any conflict of interest.

“How can you declare no conflict of interest when clearly the manufacturer benefits from the conclusions drawn by that paper as well as benefits from the decisions made by the EPA advisory panel?” Hayes said. “Especially when the member was both on the panel and was paid by Syngenta.”

Corporation v. Science

Syngenta frequently alleges that Hayes never made his data on atrazine publicly available, a damning indictment that makes it seem like his data could have been fabricated. Hayes said this is not the case.

“The work that I did for Syngenta, Syngenta owns all that raw data,” he said. “This includes the generated raw data, the transcribed typed data, and really everything. The EPA actually visited my lab. Members of the EPA actually were in my laboratory, they observed all of our processes and data collection. Mary Frankenberry, a statistician, actually analyzed the data herself.”

Syngenta and its supporters also rely heavily on the vitriol that Hayes hardly seems like a disinterested, objective scientist. Rich criticism from a company that hires people to obtain the scientific results it wants.

Hayes has spoken widely, set up a website AtrazineLovers.com and rapped about Syngenta’s powerful lobbying to keep atrazine on the market. There is, however, a fundamental distinction between a company lobbying to get its favored scientific result, and a scientist who vocally defends his scientific results. Hayes’ response isn’t surprising or unusual. Scientists often claim ownership over their results and will doggedly defend them at conferences.

The actions of big corporations like Syngenta, especially when dealing with highly profitable products, reveal a broader truth about the nature of corporate power. There is a dangerous trend in which corporate fiat is used to call scientific research into question and sway governmental policy. This trend puts millions of lives at risk as hazardous products avoid regulation and remain on the market.

One wonders why the burden isn’t on Syngenta for proving without a doubt that atrazine has no effects before plying the entire population with a highly dangerous chemical. Even if it wasn’t a near-certainty that atrazine causes birth defects, why wouldn’t we require regulatory bodies such as the EPA to err on the side of caution?

Today, atrazine remains legal and in the water supplies of millions of Americans, despite evidence from scores of labs outside Tyrone Hayes’ showing it to be hazardous.

“In the 15 plus years that I’ve had experience with the EPA, I don’t really have a lot of faith that we’re going to get an objective review that’s really going to focus on environmental health and public health with regards to atrazine, or any other chemical for that matter,” Hayes said.

Who can blame him?


The Expose


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TedX talk with Tyrone Hayes & Penelope Jagessar Chaffer

Filmmaker Penelope Jagessar Chaffer was curious about the chemicals she was exposed to while pregnant: Could they affect her unborn child? So she asked scientist Tyrone Hayes to brief her on one he studied closely: atrazine, a herbicide used on corn. (Hayes, an expert on amphibians, is a critic of atrazine, which displays a disturbing effect on frog development.) Onstage together at TEDWomen, Hayes and Chaffer tell their story.


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How Safe is Atrazine?

HuffPostFund — August 23, 2009 — One of the nations most widely-used herbicides has been found to exceed federal safety limits in drinking water in four states, but water customers have not been told and the Environmental Protection Agency has not published the results.

Records that tracked the amount of the weed-killer atrazine in about 150 watersheds from 2003 through 2008 were obtained by the Huffington Post Investigative Fund under the Freedom of Information Act. An analysis found that yearly average levels of atrazine in drinking water violated the federal standard at least ten times in communities in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kansas, all states where farmers rely heavily on the herbicide.

In addition, more than 40 water systems in those states showed spikes in atrazine levels that normally would have triggered automatic notification of customers. In none of those cases were residents alerted.

For more on this story read the full Huffington Post report here:

EPA Fails to Inform Public About Weed-Killer in Drinking Water

By Danielle Ivory
Huffington Post Investigative Fund
Created 2009-08-23 16:00
One of the nation’s most widely-used herbicides has been found to exceed federal safety limits in drinking water in four states, but water customers have not been told and the Environmental Protection Agency has not published the results.

Records that tracked the amount of the weed-killer atrazine in about 150 watersheds from 2003 through 2008 were obtained by the Huffington Post Investigative Fund under the Freedom of Information Act. An analysis found that yearly average levels of atrazine in drinking water violated the federal standard at least ten times in communities in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kansas, all states where farmers rely heavily on the herbicide.

In addition, more than 40 water systems in those states showed spikes in atrazine levels that normally would have triggered automatic notification of customers. In none of those cases were residents alerted.

In interviews, EPA officials did not dispute the data but said they do not consider atrazine a health hazard and said they did not believe the agency or state authorities had failed to properly inform the public. “We have concluded that atrazine does not cause adverse effects to humans or the environment,” said Steve Bradbury, deputy office director of the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs.

Officials at Syngenta, the Swiss company that manufactures atrazine, declined requests for interviews about the testing results. In a statement [1] on its Web site, the company says that atrazine “poses no threat to the safety of our drinking water supplies. In 2008, none of the 122 Community Water Systems monitored in 10 states exceeded the federal standards set for atrazine in drinking water or raw water.”

Atrazine has become an issue of concern for environmentalists and consumer groups as the use of the herbicide has soared in the United States over the past few decades. Some scientists who have studied atrazine said the information about its higher levels in drinking water should be made public.

Read more: http://huffpostfund.org/print/650#ixzz0mALml7tX
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution No Derivatives

Surprisingly, Atrazine contamination in our drinking water was first mentioned in Al Gore’s 1994 introduction to the 30th Anniversary Edition of Silent Spring.

“In 1988, the EPA reported that the ground water in thirty-two states was contaminated with seventy-four different agricultural chemicals, including one, the herbicide atrazine, that is classified as a potential human carcinogen. Seventy million tons a year are used on cornfields in the Mississippi basin, and 1.5 million pounds of runoffs now flow into the drinking water of 20 million people. Atrazine is not removed by municipal water treatment; in springtime, the amount of atrazine in the water often exceeds the standards set by the Safe Drinking Water Act. In 1993, that was true for 25 percent of all the surface water in the entire Mississippi basin.”

Here’s the EPA report

[Federal Register: November 23, 1994]

[OPP-30000-60; FRL-4919-5]

Atrazine, Simazine and Cyanazine; Notice of Initiation of Special Review – EPA 1994

AGENCY: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
ACTION: Notice of Initiation of Special Review.

SUMMARY: This notice announces that EPA is initiating a Special Review on pesticide products containing the herbicides atrazine, simazine and cyanazine. Atrazine [2-chloro-4-(ethylamino)-6-(isopropylamino)-s-triazine], simazine [2-chloro-4,6-bis(ethylamino)-s-triazine] and cyanazine [2-((4-chloro-6-(ethylamino)-s-triazine-2-yl)amino)-2-methylpropionitrile] will be collectively referred to hereafter in this Notice as the triazines. The triazines are widely used herbicides that control many broadleaf weeds and some grasses. All three are used on corn and may be alternatives for each other in some situations. Other uses include citrus, nut orchards (simazine), sugarcane and sorghum (atrazine) and cotton (cyanazine). Based on laboratory animal data, EPA has concluded that these three triazine compounds are possible human carcinogens and has determined that exposure to the triazines in the diet (food and drinking water) may pose risks of concern. EPA has also determined that exposure to these triazines may pose risks of concern to applicators and mixer/loaders who use products containing one or more of these chemicals and to the public who may use home lawncare products containing atrazine. Accordingly, the Agency has concluded that products containing atrazine, simazine and cyanazine meet or exceed the criteria for initiation of Special Review set forth in 40 CFR 154.7(a)(2) and that a Special Review of these products is appropriate to determine whether additional regulatory actions are required.

The Agency is concerned about the potential ecological impacts of ground and surface water contamination resulting from the use of products containing the triazines. Such contamination may have the potential to cause adverse effects to aquatic organisms, terrestrial plants and their ecosystems. The Agency is not including ecological effects as a trigger in this Special Review at this time. This does not preclude the Agency from incorporating ecological effects in this Special Review in the future should the consideration of additional information indicate that a review would be appropriate.
The Agency has determined that the estimated risks to humans posed by atrazine, simazine and cyanazine warrant the initiation of a Special Review of each of these chemicals. The Agency has also determined that a combined Special Review of atrazine, simazine and cyanazine is more appropriate than examining each individually. This determination is based on the following considerations: all three (1) are structurally related chemicals, (2) induce mammary tumors when fed to rats and are classified as Group C, possible human carcinogens, (3) degrade or metabolize to similar degradates/metabolites, (4) are generally similar in terms of environmental fate including relative persistence, leachability, run-off potential and possibly atmospheric transport, (5) are similar in toxicity to aquatic organisms and terrestrial plants, and (6) may serve as alternatives to each other for some situations.

The Agency is concerned about the potential excess individual lifetime cancer risks resulting from dietary exposure to triazine-treated food/feed commodities as well as the potential cancer risks to persons mixing, loading and applying products containing the triazine herbicides, including residential exposure to persons using lawn care products containing atrazine. EPA is also concerned about the potential risks resulting from the consumption of drinking water (from ground and surface water sources) contaminated with triazines and their degradates (metabolites), in particular the chloro degradates. Furthermore, the Agency is concerned about the additive impacts that may occur to persons exposed to more than one triazine, or through more than one exposure pathway.

While the Agency is also concerned about the potential harmful impacts on nontarget organisms (aquatic organisms, terrestrial plants) and their ecosystems that may result from continued use of triazine herbicides, it is not, at this time, including ecological effects in this Special Review. The Agency’s concerns regarding ecological effects of the triazines are discussed more fully in Unit X of this notice.

Full Report can be viewed below

Atrazine, Simazine and Cyanazine; Notice of Initiation of Special Review – [Federal Register: November 23, 1994]

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