COMMONLY USED WEEDKILLER
IS A THREAT
TO PUBLIC HEALTH
Based on the findings of two new studies, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) called on the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the use of atrazine, the nation's most widely used weed-killer, and launch a criminal investigation of Syngenta, atrazine's principal manufacturer, for allegedly covering up the studies.
Both studies show that atrazine, which is used by farmers throughout the Midwest on corn and other crops, poses a significant threat to public health. One study found that, at a level 30 times lower than EPA's tap water standard of 3 parts per billion, atrazine causes sexual deformities in frogs. The deformities included having both ovaries and testes, and testes containing eggs in addition to sperm. The other study found that the herbicide is linked to high rates of prostate cancer among workers at a Syngenta atrazine manufacturing plant in Louisiana. Documents obtained by NRDC suggest that Syngenta, a Swiss company created by the 2000 merger of Novartis and Zeneca, illegally suppressed the studies' findings.
"NRDC believes that Syngenta may have illegally withheld research showing that atrazine likely causes cancer in humans," said Jon Devine, a senior attorney at NRDC. "That's a big problem because it's everywhere. It shows up in water supplies across the country. It's sprayed on fields, it gets into our water, and millions of Americans are drinking it."
The frog study became public only after the scientist doing the research, Tyrone Hayes, ended his contract with Syngenta, and conducted his experiment independently. Syngenta conducted the second study at its atrazine manufacturing plant in Louisiana. After collecting data that shows a link between atrazine and prostate cancer among its own workers, Syngenta apparently withheld the information from EPA for years. NRDC learned of the increased cancers and blew the whistle, informing EPA last August.
Several European countries, including France, Germany and Italy, have banned atrazine. In contrast, EPA 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 either "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." Had the EPA panel known the results of Hayes' frog study and Syngenta's worker study, it likely would have reached a different conclusion about atrazine's dangers. EPA is expected to rule on atrazine's status as early as August.
"Several European countries have banned atrazine, and we're asking EPA to do the same," said Devine. "We also are calling for a criminal investigation of Syngenta. The idea that a company could withhold critical scientific data to boost its profits is appalling."
Written by: Natural Resources Defense Council
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