Daily News Archive
Puts Pesticide Maker in Charge of Testing
(Beyond Pesticides, November 5, 2003) The Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) announced an unprecedented decision on Friday, October
31, to allow a pesticide manufacturer to test for its own levels of
water contamination. In what EPA calls "an innovative protective
approach," the monitoring for levels of atrazine in US waterways
will be left to the chemical's largest manufacturer, Syngenta. The approach
was developed by EPA, atrazine manufacturers, the US Department of Agriculture
and grower groups. Environmentalists were excluded from the mix.
According to the Los
Angeles Times, the new Syngenta monitoring program will start
in March by looking at 20 waterways in 10 states: Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky,
Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Minnesota, Tennessee and Louisiana.
Erik Olson, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council
(NRDC), observed that the plan requires "Syngenta to monitor 3%
of the 1172 highest-risk watersheds, 20 to begin with, then 40 in 2005.
Ninety-seven percent of the highest-risk watersheds will not be required
to be monitored. It's insane."
EPA's action is alarming considering Syngenta's full disclosure of chemical
toxicity has been called into question in the past. In August 2002,
NRDC requested EPA investigate the company, asserting that Syngenta
deliberately concealed evidence of health threats that atrazine poses
to humans. They said Syngenta found cases of prostate cancer among workers
at their Louisiana manufacturing plant in the mid 1990's, but did not
report these findings until October 2001. According to the Federal Insecticide,
Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), pesticide registrants are required
to report any adverse health effects to EPA. See the August
9, 2002 edition of Daily News for more information.
The hazards of atrazine
are well researched and documented. Environmental Health Perspectives
published a study
in October 2002 which found that male Leopard Frogs dosed with >
.1 part per billion (ppb) of atrazine in water developed dramatic female
sexual characteristics, including retarded gonadal development (gonadal
dysgenesis) and testicular oogenesis (hermaphroditism). Shockingly,
many of the atrazine concentrations found were 30 times lower then federal
safe drinking water standards. In addition, Joseph Kiesecker of Pennsylvania
State University tested the role that pesticides, including atrazine,
play in frog deformities. His findings suggest that pesticides severely
weaken the immune system, making frogs much more susceptible to parasitic
infection and deformities. Scientists emphasize the importance of these
findings when the threat is translated to human health. For more information
and photos of these deformities, see the July
20, 2003 edition of Photo Stories.
Effects of atrazine have also been linked directly to humans, such as
the prostate cancer cases among workers at the atrazine manufacturing
plant. Furthermore, University of Missouri-Columbia epidemiologists
found male semen counts to be almost 50% lower in Missouri farm country
where atrazine was used than in big cities, where it wasn't. This study
was published in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2002. However,
both Syngenta and EPA discounted previous research on human health effects
of atrazine, claiming that hundreds of other tests commissioned by the
company show the results to be either unsound or inconclusive.
Research by independent scientists, such as the studies previously mentioned,
show that monitoring water for levels of atrazine is extremely important.
Detection of atrazine in water is already well documented. The U.S.
Geological Survey found rates of atrazine from 10 to 100 times higher
than the 3 ppb allowed by the EPA in drinking water, during spring time
in the Corn Belt region of the U.S. Trace levels have even been found
in water samples in the Arctic.
The long-term consequences
of this plan could undermine the purpose of the Clean Water Act. EPA
states their approach with Syngenta to monitor atrazine in waterways
will serve as a model, which "may in turn be used to address similar
concerns in other watersheds." The effects on waterways could be
dire, since, as Olson states, "Instead of requiring a polluter
to stop polluting, EPA is cutting a deal with the corporation to let
them off the hook."