(Beyond Pesticides, June 25, 2015) The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Tuesday that it will analyze the effects of two of the most commonly used pesticides in the United States, glyphosate and atrazine, along with atrazine chemical-cousins propazine and simazine, for their impacts on 1,500 endangered plants and animals. The announcement marks an agreement between EPA and Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) on a proposed settlement amending a 2010 court order that established a schedule to complete effects determinations for 75 chemicals on 11 species in the San Francisco (SF) Bay Area. According to EPA, 59 of the 75 pesticides have been evaluated and subject to effects determinations, however for the remaining 16 pesticides, EPA and CBD agreed that it would be more efficient and environmentally significant to complete nationwide effects determinations, rather than limit their focus to the SF bay area listed species. The agency has committed to completing the assessments by June 2020.
The initial lawsuit was filed by CBD in May 2007 against EPA for violating the Endangered Species Act by registering and allowing the use of scores of toxic pesticides in habitats for 11 San Francisco Bay Area endangered species without determining whether the chemicals jeopardize the species’ existence. As a result of this lawsuit, a federal court signed an injunction imposing interim restrictions on the use of 75 pesticides in eight Bay Area counties, granting the EPA five years to formally evaluate those chemicals’ potentially harmful effects on 11 Bay Area endangered species.
“This settlement is the first step to reining in the widespread use of dangerous pesticides that are harming both wildlife and people,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Atrazine, for instance, chemically castrates frogs even in tiny doses, is an endocrine disruptor, and likely causes birth defects in people. The EPA should have banned this years ago.”
Atrazine is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world and is used on most corn, sugarcane and sorghum acreage in the United States; and can also be used on golf courses and residential lawns. In the U.S. alone, 60-80 million pounds are used each year. Its effects on frogs have been well documented by UC Berkeley biologist Tyrone Hayes, Ph.D., whose research has found that frogs exposed to atrazine —in concentrations within federal standards”” can become so completely feminized that they can mate and lay viable eggs. According to Dr. Hayes, this “chemical castration” is not limited to amphibians, but has been repeated in fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals by other researchers studying atrazine. In addition to causing severe harm to endangered species, atrazine has been linked to a myriad of health problems in humans. It has also been linked to increased incidences of both the congenital disorder gastroschisis and choanal atresia in areas where the chemical is more widely used. And, one study linked birth defects to time of conception, with the greatest impact on children conceived when concentrations of atrazine and other pesticides are highest in the local drinking water. Along with atrazine, propazine and simazine are both in the traizine class of chemicals, which have been has been linked to developmental and reproductive toxicity, and are highly soluble in water and are the most frequently detected pesticides found at concentrations at or above one or more benchmarks in over half of sites sampled.
Atrazine is the second most commonly used pesticide after glyphosate, more commonly known as Monsanto’s Roundup. The herbicide is used to treat millions of acres of herbicide-tolerant genetically engineered (GE) crops, eradicating milkweed, and resulting in a near collapse of the monarch butterfly population, which has plummeted over the past 20 years. The chemical has also been shown to have significant impacts on the environment, as a 2012 study associated Roundup with stress-included alterations in frog morphology. Aside from its environmental impacts, it was recently designated as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), it is anything but safe. It has also been linked to antibiotic resistance, an increased risk of birth defects, and studies have shown that the “inert” ingredient used in formulated Roundup, polyethoxylated tallowamine (POEA), can kill human embroyonic, placental, and umbilical cord cells.
“This settlement will finally force the EPA to consider the impacts of glyphosate ”” widely known as Roundup ”” which is the most commonly used pesticide in the United States, on endangered species nationwide,” said Mr. Hartl. “With more than 300 million pounds of this stuff being dumped on our landscape each year, it’s hard to even fathom the damage it’s doing.”
For decades, EPA has routinely disregarded the ESA’s requirement to consult with federal wildlife agencies on how to implement conservation measures to protect threatened and endangered species from pesticides. After years of gridlock, federal wildlife agencies, EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to study the issue and report on ways to better protect listed species (any species that is likely to become endangered or any species which is in danger of extinction) from the effects of toxic pesticides. In April 2018, the NAS released a report identifying deficiencies and recommendations for all the agencies involved in pesticide consultations, but singled out the EPA’s approach for its numerous analytical shortcomings. In response to NAS’s recommendations, the agency an nounced several reforms designed to better protect endangered species in the fall of 2013. However, EPA’s risk assessment process continues to institute restrictions intended to mitigate risks, and does not function to protect the most vulnerable in biological systems.
This agreement addresses a second set of chemicals, after the initial pilot chemical (Chlorpyrifos, diazinon, malathion, carbaryl, and methomyl) assessment on a nationwide scale was set. These pilot chemicals are the result of a settlement between CBD and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) requiring the agency to analyze impacts on endangered species across the country from the five dangerous pesticides that have been found to be toxic to wildlife and may pose a health risk to humans. According to CBD, this settlement follows a similar framework and will require the EPA to begin the consultation process on these chemicals.
Through this settlement, atrazine and glyphosate will be subject to reviews on their harmful effects on thousands of species and biodiversity, paving the way for comprehensive regulatory action. Based on scientific evidence, there is no need to continue with the use of atrazine or glyphosate, especially with so many alternatives for pest management. While restrictions, reduced use or even label changes of certain harmful chemicals would be a step forward, ultimately the widespread adoption of organic management is necessary to protect consumers and the environment in the long-term. Beyond Pesticides has long sought for a broad-scale marketplace transition to organic practices that disallow the use of toxic synthetic pesticides by law, utilizing a systems-based approach. For more information, see our Lawns and Landscapes page and our Organic Food page. The Eating with a Conscience database developed by Beyond Pesticides shows consumers not only the pesticides that may be present on the food you eat, but the impacts food cultivation can have on farmworkers and the wider environment.
Take Action: EPA is accepting public comments on the proposed stipulated settlement agreement through July 8, 2015. Comments can be submitted at www.regulations.gov under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OPP-2009-0481.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.