Atrazine is a weedkiller that is quickly becoming one of the most widely used pesticides in the United States. Predominantly sprayed on Midwestern cornfields, the toxin’s presence is consistently detected in public water supplies. Much research has indicated that the pesticide is in fact capable of significant endocrine disruption, among other ill effects.
Atrazine was banned by the European Union in 2003 — just shy of 15 years ago — due to the “ubiquitous and unpreventable” water contamination. In 2006, members of the Natural Resources Defense Council authored a paper that presented evidence of Syngenta’s heavy-handed involvement with US atrazine assessments, and their apparently successful attempts at influencing the approval process. The authors note that Syngenta not only submitted flawed data as evidence that their product didn’t cause harm, but the corporate giant also repeatedly held private meetings with the EPA to “negotiate the government’s regulatory approach.” Unsurprisingly, the details of these meetings were withheld from the public. (Related: Keep up with what the EPA is up to at EPA.news)
The harmful effects of atrazine
Dr. Tyrone Hayes, a scientist from the University of California at Berkeley, has studied the effects of atrazine at length, and has come to some very disturbing conclusions about what this toxic pesticide is capable of.
In 2010, research led by Dr. Hayes showed that in amphibians, atrazine is a substantial endocrine diruptor that can even cause chemical castration in males. Forty male tadpoles were exposed to water with atrazine at 2.5 parts per billion, an amount that was well within the EPA’s established drinking water standards. Approximately one-tenth of the tadpoles that grew in the atrazine-tainted water became “functionally female,” according to Hayes. Those frogs, which were born male, reportedly produced eggs. After being exposed to atrazine, many of the 36 male-presenting frogs reportedly showed decreased testosterone, reduced breeding gland size, poor laryngeal development, suppressed mating behavior, and reduced fertility. Similar effects have been seen in other amphibious creatures.
On his own website, Atrazinelovers.com, Dr. Hayes presents evidence of other ill effects of atrazine. In rodents, for example, the chemical has been shown to cause a myriad of cancers and immune system failure. He also notes that similar effects have been observed in other species such as fish, reptiles and mammals — including humans. According to Hayes, some research has already linked atrazine exposure to reduced sperm count and decreased fertility in humans.
Dr. Hayes is not the only one to provide evidence that atrazine is harmful. A 2013 study, published by the journal Toxicology and Industrial Health, also indicated that atrazine is a potent endocrine disruptor. To conduct their research, the team utilized snails that were divided into three groups: exposed to atrazine, exposed to glyphosate, and a control group. The study found that atrazine substantially affected hormone levels, and that it caused degenerative changes to the snails’ reproductive organs. Glyphosate was also found to be harmful. The researchers concluded, “It can be concluded that both herbicides are endocrine disruptors and cause cellular toxicity…” (Related: Learn more about the harmful effects of glyphosate and other pesticides at Glyphosate.news)
Another study, published by a team from Purdue University, found that atrazine caused alterations to reproductive and neuroendocrine genes in fish. Jennifer Freeman, an assistant professor of toxicology in the School of Health Sciences commented, “The exact connection to health outcomes is not defined, but we found gene alterations in our animal model when exposed to the level of atrazine that is deemed safe for drinking water.”
The federally-approved amount of atrazine is a mere 3 parts per billion, but even that amount appears to be problematic. Notably, the research team of this study specifically chose zebra fish to conduct their experiment on because their embryonic development time mirrors human prenatal development. So, there is a strong potential for atrazine to be harmful to humans, even at levels which are currently regarded as “safe.”
Why is atrazine still in use?
There is an abundance of evidence from a variety of researchers that indicates atrazine is harmful to wildlife, and probably humans. It is widely known that atrazine contaminates the water supply — in fact, it is the most commonly detected crop chemical in drinking water. And yet, the EPA approved the chemical for continued use over ten years ago.
The EPA reportedly launched another review of atrazine regulations in the spring of 2016. It is expected that the agency will release its newest report some time during 2017, but will anything actually change? It’s hard to say. One can only hope that the EPA will do what is right once they are under new leadership.
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