At least since the late 90’s scientists have been aware that the widely used herbicide, atrazine, has detrimental effects on wild life and humans. Most notably, Dr. Tyrone Hayes spent years studying its effects on frogs. He concluded that atrazine functions as an endocrine disruptor. Rachel Aviv chronicled his research and the subsequent campaign by Syngenta to discredit him and his work in a 2014 New Yorker article. I wrote a post concerning the article in 2014 and pointed out that Ms. Aviv avoided condemning atrazine use.
Now Dr. Hayes and others have been vindicated by a recent EPA report discussing “the ecological risks posed by…atrazine.” The report concludes that there exists a “chronic risk to fish, amphibians and aquatic invertebrates,” as well as “chronic risk…for mammals, birds, reptiles and plants.” Overall, the EPA study found that “mammals are exposed to 198 times more atrazine than the level of concern for chronic risk and fish are exposed to 62 times that level.” Their conclusions were based on the hundreds of studies done over the years involving the effects of atrazine on plants and animals.
Monsanto recognized the toxicity of atrazine, but in a classic instance of “out of the frying pan and into the fire,” introduced glyphosate, claiming it would replace atrazine. Atrazine use did decline slightly at first, but has since rebounded. And glyphosate, whose use has increased by 3000% since 1992, has been declared a “probable human carcinogen” by the World Health Organization, but that’s another topic.
Even though the EPA classified atrazine as a Restricted Use Pesticide in 1992, it is used, annually, on 75% of all corn, 58.5% of all sorghum and 76% of sugar cane. It’s also used to treat lawns and golf courses. Atrazine, then, by virtue of ubiquitous use, has been widely detected in surface and drinking water. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) analyzed surface and drinking water in 2009 and found that 75% of stream water and 40% of all groundwater samples contained atrazine.
The EPA has long been aware of problems associated with atrazine use, but has up until now refused to issue a ban. In 2003, the EPA even allowed Syngenta, the atrazine manufacturer, to be responsible for testing U.S. waterways for contamination. This deal was developed by the EPA, the USDA, Syngenta and grower groups. Environmental organizations were barred from the negotiations.
Ms. Aviv discussed the role the EPA played in her New Yorker article. She pointed out that “since the mid-seventies, the EPA has issued regulations restricting the use of only five industrial chemicals out of more than eighty thousand in the environment. Industries have a greater role in the American regulatory process.” She also pointed out a more disturbing facet involved in the industrial regulatory process – that “cost-effect-benefit analyzes are integral to decisions: a monetary value is assigned to disease, impairments and shorted lives and weighs against the benefits of keeping a chemical in use.”
One would think then, that the EPA’s recent report outlining the dangers of atrazine would evolve into a ban on its use as was done in the EU in 2004. Any potential decisions made by the EPA, however, are being delayed until some time in 2017. Given the overwhelming evidence accumulated by scientists over the decades, this delay seems unconscionable. Moreover, a report published this year by Texas A&M and Iowa State University focused on the relationship between atrazine and elevated birth defects. Specifically, “elevated atrazine levels in surface water were significantly associated with cleft lip, polydactyly [excess fingers and toes] and Down syndrome.” And in considering again any delay of a potential ban on atrazine, it must be noted as well that the EPA had, in 2011, published a report suggesting that atrazine use was closely associated with various cancers found in humans. Specifically those of prostate, lung, breast, colorectal, pancreatic, melanoma and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Atrazine can be absorbed orally, dermally and by inhalation. As I noted in my posting in 2014, the negative consequences of exposure to atrazine were chronicled extensively in 1996 by a consortium of universities. They concluded that symptoms of atrazine poisoning included structural and chemical changes in the brain, heart, liver, lungs, kidney, ovaries and endocrine organs.
The NRDC points out, correctly, that “the toxicity associated with atrazine has been documented extensively.” As Dr. Hayes concludes, “the science has been settled for a long time. Now it’s politics and economics.” While waiting for a ban that may never materialize, and considering that atrazine is only one of thousands of chemicals released regularly into the environment, I again suggest buying a water filter.
Recipe of the Day
I believe today is International No-Meat Day, although I doubt too many people know that. But I’ll honor it by presenting a vegetarian dish that I make frequently, with variations.
Chard and Goat Cheese Pie
2 bunches chard, stems removed and chopped
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. fresh oregano, minced
1 cup goat cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan
Cook the chard in a little water until soft, about two minutes. Drain. Heat oil in a large pan. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add the chard and the oregano and stir in. Turn off the heat and incorporate the cheeses into the mix. Let cool.
For the crust, mix 1 stick cold butter with 1.5 cups of flour. Using your fingers, mix the butter until the pieces are no bigger than peas. Add ice cold water, one tablespoon at a time, mixing with a fork. Continue to add water until the mixture can be formed into a ball. It usually takes 6 to 8 tablespoons of water. At this point, try to handle the dough as little as possible. Form it into a ball then roll it out to fit your pie pan. Put the chard mix into the pan pie and cover with the crust. Crimp the edges. Poke the top with a fork. Place in a 400 degree oven until done – about 40 minutes.