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Daily News Blog

06
Nov

Lawsuit Launched Against EPA Approval of Toxic Herbicide Atrazine

(Beyond Pesticides, November 6, 2020) Beyond Pesticides joined health and environmental groups suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) late last month over its decision to reapprove the endocrine disrupting herbicide atrazine with fewer protections for children’s health. Despite the chemical being banned across much of the world, EPA continues to make decisions that benefit chemical industry executives. “EPA’s failure to remove atrazine represents a dramatic failure of a federal agency charged with safeguarding the health of people, wildlife, and the environment,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. “We seek to uphold the agency’s duty to act on the science, in the face of viable alternatives to this highly toxic weedkiller.”

It is not hyperbole, but in fact scientifically documented, that atrazine exposure “chemically castrates” frogs, impairs fish reproduction, and can result in birth defects and cancer in humans. EPA decision comes on the heels of a rash of industry-friendly decisions. Within the last month, the agency has finalized rules weakening farmworker buffer zone protections, reapproving dicamba use on genetically engineered crops, and reregistering some of the most toxic pesticides on the market.

The lawsuit, filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, contends that before reapproving atrazine, the EPA failed in its legal duty to ensure that the pesticide would not cause unreasonable harm to public health and the environment. The recent atrazine reapproval eliminated longstanding safeguards for children’s health, allowed 50% more atrazine to end up in U.S. waterways, and perpetuated dangerously high risks to farmworkers and their families.

According to research published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, banning atrazine would provide an economic benefit to farmers. “The winners,” the authors  conclude, “in an atrazine free future would include farm worker, farmers and their families, and others who are exposed to atrazine either directly from field uses or indirectly from contaminated tap water along with natural ecosystem that are currently damaged by atrazine.” Numerous other countries, including the European Union as far back as 2004, have banned atrazine and eliminated use without any damage to the farming economy. Yet EPA’s allowance means atrazine is likely to continue being the second-most used pesticide in the United States, with roughly 70 million pounds used each year in agriculture.

“If EPA were actually doing its job, this chemical would have been off the market years ago,” said Kristin Schafer, executive director of Pesticide Action Network, which is also part of the lawsuit. “The science on atrazine’s harms is so clear that it’s been banned in Europe for more than a decade, yet here in this country EPA is now loosening use restrictions—once again putting corporate interests over public health or the environment.”

The lawsuit also challenges the EPA’s reapprovals of two other pesticides in the triazine class, propazine and simazine, which were part of the same review process as atrazine.

In allowing the continued use of atrazine, the EPA discarded safety precautions mandated under the Food Quality Protection Act that were put in place decades ago to limit young children’s exposure to the pesticide. In doing so, the agency ignored multiple independent epidemiological studies finding that developing embryos and young children are at high risk from atrazine. These findings are supported by animal studies, which likewise demonstrate adverse birth outcomes and reproductive effects.

In assessing atrazine, the EPA also reduced the protection factor it uses to convert toxicity levels observed in rat and mouse studies to levels considered safe for humans. The more permissive benchmark relies solely on a model developed by the primary manufacturer of atrazine, Syngenta.

Had the safety standards been based on independent science, atrazine uses on lawns and turf would likely have been cancelled due to unacceptable harms to children. The approval only mandated a modest reduction in the application rate for turf.

Additionally, the EPA dismissed extensive evidence showing that personal protection equipment intended to reduce farmworkers’ exposure to atrazine is ineffective and infeasible, thus putting the health of this highly exposed group at risk.

“Rather than doing its job of protecting human health and the environment, EPA heeded to political expediency and rushed to reapprove this toxic pesticide. We are in court to make sure EPA answers for its blatant disregard of the lives of our nation’s farmworkers and their children,” said Sylvia Wu, senior attorney at Center for Food Safety, who is representing the petitioners in the lawsuit.

Over 4,000 individuals signed on to Beyond Pesticides’ petition urging EPA to ban atrazine. While we take to the courts to correct the agency’s failure to protect the public, we encourage these advocates to keep up the pressure work to restrict use at the state and local level. But don’t limit your advocacy to one class of chemical – promote organic farming and land care, which eliminates toxic herbicides as well as all other hazardous pesticides that hurt out health.

For more information on the specific dangers of atrazine poses to our health and the environment, watch the keynote presentation from Tyrone Hayes, PhD, professor at University California, Berkeley, at the 33rd National Pesticide Forum in Irvine, CA. Dr. Hayes one of the world’s foremost experts on atrazine, has been the subject of incessant attacks by the chemical’s manufacturer, Syngenta-Chemchina.

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

Source: Center for Food Safety press release

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