The herbicide, atrazine, hit the news with an article in the New Yorker of 2/10/14, featuring the work of Professor Tyrone Hayes at the University of California, Berkeley. Hayes, a brilliant and renowned researcher, has spent many years studying the abnormal sexual development of male frogs; they have been found to develop ovaries as well as testes, becoming hermaphrodites. Hayes has experimental evidence that the herbicide atrazine is strongly implicated in these abnormalities and that atrazine, a probable endocrine disrupter, may also be related to the worldwide decline in amphibian populations.
Atrazine is made by the company Syngenta. According to the New Yorker article, Syngenta has been trying to discredit Hayes and his work in multiple ways, detailed in the fascinating and frightening exposé in the New Yorker.
Atrazine is one of the most widely used herbicides in the U.S. It is reportedly applied to more than half the corn raised in this country. A study by the EPA found that without atrazine the national corn yield would fall by 6%. But the herbicide degrades slowly in soil, washes into streams and lakes, and breaks down slowly. It is one of the most common contaminants of drinking water in the Midwest – an estimated 30 million Americans are exposed to trace amounts of this chemical. Atrazine, widely believed to be an endocrine disrupter, has been banned by Italy and Germany since 1991 and by the European Union since 2003. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other environmental organizations have filed lawsuits against the EPA for failure to ban atrazine, so far without results. In August, 2013, a coalition of more than 250 conservation, public-health and sustainable farming groups sent a letter to the EPA asking for a ban on atrazine. According to the New Yorker article, the EPA is conducting another review of the safety of atrazine at this time.
If you are upset by this column, you will be very disturbed by the article about Sygenta’s attempts to discredit Professor Hayes in the New Yorker. Stay tuned – I will keep you informed on this story as more news becomes available. In the meantime, you can support the NRDC, the Center for Biological Diversity, or other environmental organizations that are working on this issue.
Sadja Greenwood, MD,MPH back issues on this blog – use the index or search at the top left. Check out my novel – Changing the Rules – at local bookstores or on Amazon