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Atrazine Whistleblower Takes His Case To Court

(Beyond Pesticides, July 3, 2007) A scientist at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has filed a whistleblower lawsuit in federal court, arguing that he was first not allowed to share his research with a legislative panel, and then fired for it. Hydrologist Paul Wotzka, who worked for the state Agriculture Department for sixteen years before leaving to join MPCA in October, had been slated to testify about the rise in atrazine levels in Whitewater State Park, which have exceeded recommended levels for several area species. Atrazine, which has been linked to cancer, birth defects, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption and a variety of other health and environmental effects and has been banned by the European Union, is a widely used agricultural herbicide.. Mr. Wotzka said in his lawsuit, as well as publicly, that this rise in atrazine in Minnesota waterways was due to increased row-crop agriculture in the region and the the Agriculture Department’s support of corn for ethanol.

In his lawsuit, Mr. Wotzka is asking for $75,000 and to return to his position with MPCA. He claims that he was put on investigative leave, “related to missing data that is property of the State of Minnesota.” The investigative leave led to his dismissal on May 8, and the letter announcing it likewise asserted that he had diverted mail from his old office to MPCA and destroyed data.

Mr. Wotzka had planned to testify that the Department of Agriculture “misrepresented its own data by claiming that the atrazine concentrations in Minnestota’s rivers and streams were in compliance with current water quality standards,” rather than the “significant risk to Minnesota’s environmental health,” as he sees them. He was also planning to claim that the state’s “continuing support of corn for ethanol was a major contributing factor to increasing atrazine and nitrate concentrations in Minnesota.”

Some legislators are angry over Mr. Wotzka’s treatement. Representative Ken Tschumper (DFL-La Crescent) accused Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty of “stonewalling scientific review” of the research. “They do not want the public to know what the research is indicating,” he said. Saying the agribusiness community “went through the roof” at the prospect of transferring pesticide regulation from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Health, he continued, “Atrazine is the most widely used pesticide in this country. Half of the corn and soybean acres have atrazine applied to them. This is a big deal.” In addition to Mr. Wotzka’s lawsuit, Rep.Tschumper promised, “For my part, I’m going to be talking to our leadership in the House and the various committee members and see if we can’t conduct our own investigation, I can tell you that.”

This is the latest in what is becoming a pattern of data suppression, particularly in cases when the chemical in question is as high-profile as atrazine. For example, Tyrone Hayes, Ph.D., University of California-Berkeley professor and endocrinologist, was uninvited from speaking to the MPCA about his research in atrazine’s interference with frogs’ sexual development. He also struggled with funding being withheld and pressure from industry to stop the research. Representative Jean Wagenius (DFL-Minneapolis) said, “When it comes to protection, industry is being protected and the public is not, especially in the case of atrazine.”

To read more about concerns about scientific integrity and government and industry interview, see past daily news stories: here and here.

Sources: The Post-Bulletin, WCCO, Twin Cities Daily Planet, The Star Tribune


4 Responses to “Atrazine Whistleblower Takes His Case To Court”

  1. 1
    Tom Taylor Says:

    Stand Up For Paul Wotzka and Our State’s Waters

    WHAT: Eastside Food Co-op’s Monthly Food Forum, A Fundraiser for Paul Wotzka

    WHO: Fired state hydrologist Paul Wotzak, Dr. Tyrone Hayes and special guests

    WHERE: The Ritz Theater – 345 13th Ave 13th AVE in NE Minneapolis

    WHEN: Wednesday, Oct 10th doors at 6:15, Paul Metsa performs 6:30 to 7:00 presentation from 7:00 to 9:00

    WHY: To support Paul Wotzka, the frogs, our waters and all of us, and to learn about Atrazine

    You would think a state employee would have no problem speaking to a legislative committee about what he knows, HECK, he’s on the payroll. Well Paul Wotzka, a 17 year hydrologist with the state of MN, found out sometimes that is not the case. Paul was suspended by the MN Pollution Control Agency after requesting to testify about the levels of Atrazine in our state’s waters and then a week later was fired.

    Dr Tyrone Hayes, renowned expert on the dangers of Atrazine, also found out about our state government’s apparent phobia about public information about Atrazine when he was “uninvited” from being the keynote speaker at a 2004 MPCA sponsored conference where he had planned to speak about Atrazine and how it affects amphibians.

    On October 10th beginning at 6:30 the Eastside Food Co-op and the Land Stewardship Project will be hosting a fundraiser for Paul Wotzka and his federal whistle-blower lawsuit at the Ritz Theater in NE Minneapolis.
    You can read more about his lawsuit here:
    and here:

    Dr Tyrone Hayes will also be in attendance and speak about his groundbreaking research on Atrazine. You can read more about this incredible speaker and what he has come up against speaking truth to power about Atrazine, environmental, animal and human health and the corporate bottom line here:

    After presentations by Dr. Hayes and Paul Wotzka there will be a question and answer panel with Hayes, Wotkza, and special guests.

    There will also be a silent auction for gift certificates from the most sustainable and righteous minded chefs and restaurants in the Twin Cities.

    The Ritz Theater is located at 345 13th Ave 13th AVE in NE Minneapolis. Doors open at 6:15 with Paul Metsa performing from 6:30 to 7:00 when the presentation will begin.

    Come and hear for yourself what some have tried to deny us. The suggested donation is $20 but no one will be turned away from hearing this important information.

    If you cannot attend but would like to support Paul Wotzka donations can be made out to Paul Wotzka Defense Fund and sent to:
    Eastside Food Co-op
    atten. Kristina Gronquist
    2551 Central Ave NE
    Minneapolis, MN 55418

    There will be music, a silent auction from the finest restaurants in the Twin Cities and the free flow of information for us all.

    We hope you can make it and please help spread the word by forwarding this on.

    for frogs, water, Paul Wotzka and us all,
    Tom Taylor
    Eastside Food Co-op

  2. 2
    Jeff G. Says:

    Is this fired employee really a “whistleblower” or just angry?

    I agree that MN Dept of AG is, in many respects, a whipping boy for Ag industry. There is also a lot of data and information on the damaging effects of atrazine (and its degridates) in aquatic systems and its ridiculously high concentrations in MN ground and surface waters. These are not hidden or unknown issues just ones policy makers have repeatedly ducked responsibility for. What’s new when it comes to the environment?

    Just listen to this October 2005 MN NPR story with Paul Wotzka, (and I assume with MDAs approval) as the focus describing the problems of atrazine in the Whitewater River.
    (http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/features/2005/10/10_olsond_impaire…). In this story he is explaining the high concentrations of atrazine quantified in the SW and other experts explaining the detrimental effects of those high concentrations. No one else is speaking for the MDA so I guess if there was some sort of misrepresentation of facts he would have been knowledgeable of and involved with it. He was employed by MDA for 16-yrs which makes you wonder why after being fired he now has a concern for some sort of cover-up?

    It sounds like the Dept of Employee Relations was investigating this guy 4 or 5 months before he was asked to talk to this subcommittee. Apparently his termination letter from the state cited the “destruction of data” and the “improper diversion of state mail”. I dont know what all that means but I would guess that the state has bullet proof evidence to make such strong statements which resulted in his firing.

    I guess time will tell with his story. Unfortunately I fear that the more important issue of unregulated and harmful pesticides in our state waters will be pushed off to the side for some trial lawyer carnival theatrics.

  3. 3
    Tim Says:

    The word going around various state agencies is that well over a decade worth of water quality data was removed (i.e. copied to another device) and destroyed from Paul’s password protected work computer the day he left employment at MDA. This data is critical in quantifying long-term trends in the determination of water quality. Without this data MDA and the State is limited in doing its job, protecting MN water quality.

    Because this is a personnel matter the State cannot tell us why Paul was fired but he can. There were multiple written investigation reports (which by statute he is required to be given) and multiple interviews with him and others involved so he must know why the State fired him. After more then 20-months of time why won’t Paul tell us the reasons the State fired him?

    If all this is true then this criminal act should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

  4. 4
    Tim S Says:

    if he did distroy valuable water quality data the state should go after him with crook charges. wow did he have everyone going with his tall tale

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