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Daily News Blog

05
Sep

Study Finds EPA Favors Industry in Pesticide Safety Evaluations

epa_seal_profiles(Beyond Pesticides, September 5, 2014) A study published in a scientific journal finds that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) favors the chemical  industry when making determinations on pesticide safety. Under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), EPA conducts  risk assessments to determine whether a new or existing chemical is eligible for registration or reregistration and therefore able to enter or remain on the market. The study’s conclusions raise serious concerns for both environmental and human health protection because of EPA’s practice of inviting bias and underestimating potential harm.

The study, which will be in the October issue of BioScience, highlights the case of atrazine, an herbicide that has been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, birth defects, and reproductive effects. In their study, Michelle Boone, Ph.D., of Miami University, and her colleagues find that most pesticide toxicity tests used in risk assessments are conducted by pesticide manufacturers themselves. The authors contend that this can result in conflicts of interest. Additionally, strict methodological criteria, such as the types of containers in which exposed specimens are raised, often mean that potentially relevant studies are barred from EPA’s assessment process. The agency reassessed atrazine  based on a sole, manufacturer-funded study, finding it  to be safe to amphibians despite a plethora of other studies that could have resulted in a very different conclusion.

Other problems cited by the researchers regarding EPA’s risk assessment practices include the “inconsistent application of criteria among taxonomic groups and an over-reliance on laboratory studies.” Cumulatively, these issues indicate a “presumption of innocence” that Dr. Boone and her colleagues assert may be inappropriate for the evaluation of potentially harmful substances. The authors of the study conclude that “the risk assessment process can and should be improved so that decisions are made with the best available data with an evidence-based approach,” and suggest several recommendations for reform, including the use of an independent third-party that separates industry and research and subsequently reduces the concern over conflicts of interest. They also recommend the use of all available research, particularly field studies, and increased transparency of the assessment process.

Dr. Boone’s frustration with the agency began in 2012 when she served as an expert on a panel that was part of EPA’s reassessment of atrazine. She was astounded to witness the blatant disregard by EPA officials for the panel’s  unanimous conclusion that the scientific literature found atrazine to disrupt the reproductive development of amphibians, and should be subject to further investigation. Dr. Boone’s experiences were not new for the agency  —expert panels on the same topic from 2003 and 2007 had come to similar conclusions, yet EPA  still found atrazine to have no adverse effects on amphibians. “You wonder why you’re even there, to repeat things that have already been said, and then to be ignored for reasons that are unclear,” Dr. Boone told Newsweek.

Atrazine has also been linked to the feminization of male frogs in the wild. A 2002 study  conducted by Tyrone Hayes, Ph.D., at the University of California, Berkeley found that these frogs, when exposed to low doses in the parts per billion (ppb) range, developed dramatic female sexual characteristics, including retarded gonadal development and hermaphroditism. When  a class action lawsuit threatened to remove the controversial herbicide from the market, atrazine manufacturer Syngenta Crop Protection launched an aggressive multi-million dollar campaign. A 2013 report revealed that the pesticide giant routinely paid “third-party allies” to appear to be independent supporters, keeping a list of 130 people and groups it could recruit as experts without disclosing ties to the company. The company, the report found, also purportedly hired a detective agency to investigate scientists on a federal advisory panel, looking into the personal life of a judge and commissioning a psychological profile of Dr. Hayes. His struggle with Syngenta was documented by The New Yorker earlier this year. It is no surprise that companies like Syngenta, a manufacturer of the herbicide, would go to such far lengths to protect their bottom line -atrazine is the second-most widely used pesticide active ingredient used in the U.S. agricultural market sector, according to EPA’s most recent estimates.

Dr. Boone is not the first and only critic of EPA’s pesticide risk assessment process. Evaggelos Vallianatos, the author of Poison Spring and a former employee of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, lambasts the agency’s faulty, industry-tainted, and potentially harmful regulatory decision making process in a recent Huffington Post article, and recommends “redesigning the EPA to be a Federal Reserve-like organization, independent of polluters and their lobbyists in the White House and Congress.”   Beyond Pesticides also supports an alternatives assessment approach that differs dramatically from a risk assessment-based policy by rejecting uses and exposures deemed acceptable under risk assessment calculations, but unnecessary because of the availability of safer alternatives.

You can avoid eating food grown with harmful synthetic pesticides and reduce their environmental contamination by eating organic. For more information on organic agriculture, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Agriculture program page. Additionally, in an effort to ensure that the essential independent scientific research on pesticides is not thwarted by the chemical industry, Beyond Pesticides has launched The Fund for Independent Science. This fund, catalyzed by last year’s announcement that Tyrone Hayes, Ph.D. has lost university funding for his laboratory and research, is set up and run by Beyond Pesticides. Your support can enable the continuation of Dr. Hayes critical research, and support the other work of independent scientists. Make a pledge today.

You can learn more about atrazine and Dr. Hayes’ work by watching a full presentation of his talk at the 31st National Pesticide Forum held in Albuquerque, NM.

Source: Newsweek, EurekAlert

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides

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One Response to “Study Finds EPA Favors Industry in Pesticide Safety Evaluations”

  1. 1
    TonyIsSupreme Says:

    Perhaps the Environmental Protection Agency actually stands for

    Every Pesticide Association.

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