City of Creston joins lawsuit against atrazine producer

Jason Hancock published a fascinating story at Iowa Independent today about a federal lawsuit against Syngenta AG and its U.S.-based subsidiary, Syngenta Crop Protection Inc. Sixteen communities, including Creston in southwest Iowa, are suing Syngenta because it profits from sales of atrazine while communities have to pay to remove the weed-killer from water supplies. Apparently Creston has a higher concentration of atrazine in its drinking water than any other Iowa city.

Judging from this comment by a Syngenta spokesperson, the key to the company’s defense will be a Bush administration Environmental Protection Agency finding, which asserted that atrazine has no detrimental effects in humans. However, the herbicide is banned in Europe because of numerous studies showing that it enters the water supply and is correlated with certain cancers and birth defects.

We could reduce water pollution if we made polluters pay the cost of removing contaminants from drinking water, but asking farmers who apply atrazine to pay for water treatment is a political non-starter. I don’t know what legal precedent supports suing the manufacturer of a farm chemical over the cost of treating drinking water. Last year the Obama administration EPA ordered the independent Scientific Advisory Panel to conduct a thorough scientific review of atrazine’s “potential cancer and non-cancer effects on humans,” including “its potential association with birth defects, low birth weight, and premature births.” I assume the results of that review will affect the outcome of the cities’ federal lawsuit against Syngenta.

I’m still waiting for so-called “pro-life” activists to support restrictions on farm chemicals linked to birth defects and spontaneous abortions.

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Another study finds link between atrazine and birth defects

Yet another study has found that exposure to the weed-killer atrazine is associated with a higher rate of a birth defect:

Living near farms that use the weed killer atrazine may up the risk of a rare birth defect, according to a study presented this past Friday [February 5] at the annual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Chicago.

About 1 in 5000 babies born in the U.S. each year suffers from gastroschisis, in which part of the intestines bulges through a separation in the belly, according to the March of Dimes. The rate of gastroschisis has risen 2- to 4-fold over the last three decades, according to Dr. Sarah Waller, of the University of Washington, Seattle, and colleagues. […]

The researchers looked at more than 4,400 birth certificates from 1987-2006 – including more than 800 cases of gastroschisis — and U.S. Geological Survey databases of agricultural spraying between 2001 and 2006.

Using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards to define high chemical exposure levels in surface water, they found that the closer a mother lived to a site of high surface water contamination by atrazine, the more likely she was to deliver an infant with gastroschisis.

The birth defect occurred more often among infants who lived less than 25 km (about 15 miles) from one of these sites, and it occurred more often among babies conceived between March and May, when agricultural spraying is common.

A separate study published last year in the medical journal Acta Paediatrica compared monthly concentrations of “nitrates, atrazine and other pesticides” in the U.S. water supply with birth defect rates over a seven-year period. The researchers found, “Elevated concentrations of agrichemicals in surface water in April-July coincided with higher risk of birth defects in live births with [last menstrual periods in] April-July.” The association was found for “eleven of 22 birth defect subcategories” as well as for birth defects as a whole.

The European Union banned atrazine in 2003 because of groundwater contamination, but tens of millions of pounds of the chemical are still sprayed on American farms. It has been proven to enter the water supply and is correlated with increased rates of breast and prostate cancers.

During the Bush administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintained that atrazine had no detrimental effects in humans. But in a policy shift last October, the EPA announced that it would ask the independent Scientific Advisory Panel to conduct a thorough scientific review of atrazine’s “potential cancer and non-cancer effects on humans,” including “its potential association with birth defects, low birth weight, and premature births.” The panel will also evaluate research on “atrazine’s potential effects on amphibians and aquatic ecosystems.” Conventional agriculture groups aren’t waiting for the results of the review; they are already lobbying the EPA not to restrict or ban the use of atrazine.

I’d have more respect for the “pro-life” movement if they supported restrictions on chemicals that threaten babies in the womb. I don’t think I have ever heard an anti-abortion activist railing against atrazine or pesticides that can cause spontaneous abortions, though.

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