"from silent spring to silent night"
About week or so ago, I went to a particularly fantastic research seminar given by Dr. Tyrone Hayes from UC Berkeley. In addition to being an excellent scientist, Dr. Hayes has gained a lot of attention for being a particularly outspoken advocate for the banning of atrazine.
First registered with the EPA in 1958, atrazine is now one of the most widely used agricultural herbicides in the world. Dr. Hayes began studying atrazine over a decade ago when he was hired by a consulting company to research atrazine on behalf of Syngenta, atrazine’s manufacturer. However, his work with Syngenta was short-lived; Dr. Hayes left his consulting job soon after his own reserach began to cast atrazine in a negative light.
Over the years, Dr. Hayes has continued to study atrazine, despite continuous attacks and counter-studies from Syngenta. It’s a fascinating story from both a scientific and a social perspective, and it’s really best told by Dr. Hayes himself. You can also read more about atrazine at Dr. Hayes’ website.
So why does all of this even matter?
As Dr. Hayes explains in his talk, atrazine affects male frog development by disrupting the delicate balance between the two sex hormones, estrogen and testosterone. Importantly, these two sex hormones are identical in all animals, and several scientists have independently discovered that atrazine acts as an endocrine disruptor in fish, amphibians, reptiles, and rodents. And if atrazine disrupts hormone balance in fish, amphibians, reptiles, and rodents, it’s more than likely that atrazine also disrupts horomone balance in humans. Of course, Syngenta denies any such claims (not that it should come as any surprise).
But even if we completely ignore this threat to our own health, atrazine still poses a clear threat to the environment. In 2003, the National Resources Defense Council sued the EPA for failing to protect several endangered species from atrazine. The Center for Biological Diversity similarly sued the EPA in 2002; as a result, the threatened California red-legged frog is now protected from atrazine and 65 other pesticides. To quote Dr. Hayes:
"Given atrazine’s solubility in water, aquatic animals such as fish and amphibians are at the greatest risk… Several salmon and trout species are already endangered or threatened as are other fish. Amphibians are also very sensitive to endocrine disruptors and given that already more than 60% of all amphibians are in decline and a third are threatened or endangered, atrazine is of great concern…"
What You Should Know About Atrazine: Endangered Species
Such ecological ramifications and likely health risks should make us seriously question our use of atrazine and other pesticides. So what can we do? We can join the discussion! If petitions are your thing, you can check this one out. I’m sure the EPA, congress, and Syngenta would also love to hear your thoughts. The EPA has already stated that the ultimate decision regarding the regulation of atrazine “weighs into public opinion”, so let’s give them an opinion.