By Dave Stancliff/For the Times-Standard
Posted: 08/15/2010 01:32:27 AM PDT
Once upon a time, Agent Orange (AO) and all of its synthetic peers were widely sprayed to kill weeds throughout the land, and overseas where Americans fought in Vietnam. The manufacturers of AO assured the people that all was well. So everyone smiled.
Soon however, dark warnings trickled into the mainstream. Soldiers came back from the bad place with cancers and other terrible diseases. The men and women in the military suffered for years until they finally got recognition and treatment from the Veterans Administration. Many veterans are still struggling today.
When enough doctors and scientists came together and pored over mountains of studies not considered important by the EPA, they discovered that AO was responsible for a wide variety of serious health conditions.
The chemical manufacturers turned to the courts with their own industry-funded studies that showed AO was safe. After years of bitter court battles the manufacturers lost and had to pay for their sins.
This is not the end of the story. It seems we have not learned from this sad chapter in our history, when greedy chemical companies got away with poisoning people in the name of profit. As baseball great Yogi Berra once said, “It's deju vu all over again.”
This time the culprit has a new name, Atrazine. It's an herbicide like AO, and an estimated 76 million pounds of it are sprayed on corn and other fields in the U.S. every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) records.
The problem; the EPA failed to notify people last fall when Atrazine was discovered in drinking water at 10 times the national safety limits. Those levels should have automatically triggered notification of customers, but that didn't happen.
Four states, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kansas are being monitored because their farmers rely heavily on Atrazine. The Huffington Post Investigative Fund found the amount of weed-killer was excessive in about 150 watersheds from 2003 through 2008, after obtaining the information under the Freedom of Information Act.
The company that makes Atrazine, Syngenta, says over 6,000 studies have been done and they claim it's safe to use. Oh really? I recall Monsanto and Dow saying the same thing about AO. And, once again no surprise, most of the companies that did the research on the herbicide's safety have financial interests in the outcome.
We shouldn't be surprised when the fact that many (at least half) of those studies have never been published or subjected to independent peer review. Why aren't the independently funded academic research papers published in major scientific journals considered by the EPA? The excuses given are about as credible as the chemical industry safety claims.
In 2003, the EPA was criticized for ignoring those studies when making safety decisions on the herbicide, and because representatives from Syngenta participated in closed-door negotiations with the agency, according to documents obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist specializing in health issues at NRDC, argues that relying on a company test of its own safety is an “inherent conflict of interest.” Yet the EPA says Atrazine is OK.
The reasoning behind this claim comes from the EPA's senior analyst, William Jordan, who says they have a limited budget, and it's necessary to rely on research provided by the industry testing companies. He insists they have a strong incentive to follow guidelines.
That's not very encouraging. I'm skeptical of the safety claims when four states have already found their waterways have unsafe levels of Atrazine. We've been down this road before. There will always be a problem when you have industry influence in the federal regulatory process.
I think the EPA is finally feeling the pressure because officials are going to re-examine their stance on how much health risk the weed-killer poses. Sometime in September, the EPA will announce the results of their re-examination of Atrazine. The stakes are high. They could outright ban the use of Atrazine, or put more restriction on it. Or, they can continue to allow the staus quo, in which case the public loses.
As It Stands, my disgust with the EPA is only surpassed by my concern that once again the health of thousands of Americans is endangered because of corruption and greed.
Web sites carrying this column as of 10:03 a.m. PST
Environmental Health News – Front Page – See column under OPINION
Skippy the Bush Kangaroo
One hour later…
NewsFeed – see articles under ENDOCRINE DISRUPTION
One hour later…
OHIO CITIZEN ACTION under Health News (Aug 15)
My Weed Killer