When defending the safety of one of the most widely used weed killers in North America, Syngenta often cites the fact that some 6,000 studies provide “overwhelming” evidence that atrazine is nothing to worry about. But a recent report by the Huffington Post Investigative Fund shows that at least half of the 6,611 studies the EPA is using in its current review of the herbicide were conducted by scientists and organizations with financial ties to the chemical. Many of those connections come via Syngenta, the inventor and primary manufacturer of atrazine. That fact makes the evidence in favor of atrazine a little less “overwhelming” and a little more “questionable.”
As a January report by LSP and PANNA documents, the EPA review process that led to atrazine’s U.S. re-approval a few years ago was marred by numerous closed-door meetings involving Syngenta and EPA officials. That review was also characterized by a lack of independent research and suppression of scientific studies that showed significant health and environmental problems associated with the herbicide.
When the EPA announced last fall that it was doing a new year-long review of atrazine, there was hope that this one would be less tainted by corporate influence than the previous process (the agency is expected to announce its new findings in September).
But the Huffington Post report raises serious “here we go again” concerns. According to EPA records obtained by the website’s journalists, more than 80 percent of the studies the EPA is using in its review haven’t even been published. That means independent scientists probably haven’t provided those unpublished reports the “peer review” needed to ensure they are scientifically sound.
Even more troubling is that several prominent published studies, including some by widely recognized atrazine expert Tyrone Hayes, are not on the EPA’s review list. Hayes, as you may recall, is not popular with the chemical industry or its supporters within the government (including here in Minnesota) for his willingness to speak out about his research showing problems in amphibians exposed to extremely low levels of atrazine.
The agribusiness community may not like Hayes’ outspoken nature, but the fact is his research has been published in prestigious scientific journals such as Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They deserve consideration.
One EPA analyst told the Huffington Post that research by Hayes and other scientists that’s related to amphibians isn’t being included in the review process because the government lacks “protocols for testing on frogs.” Maybe it’s time such protocols are developed, considering that in states like Minnesota atrazine is the number one pesticide contaminant of surface and groundwater.
Perhaps the most troubling point made in the Huffington Post investigation is that EPA officials seem to have no problem relying on industry-funded pesticide research. In fact, one official said in the article that since industry has more money to throw at research, it’s likely its results will be more thorough than what turns up in, for example, university labs.
Let’s summarize this philosophy: since corporations like Syngenta have the most money (which by the way was produced from selling chemicals like atrazine), then their science trumps research done in the public realm using public dollars— supposedly for the public good.
In the old days, we called that a conflict of interest.