Atrazine risk assessment draws ire from ag sector

By Stephen Davies

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 2, 2016 - An EPA draft document assessing the ecological risks of atrazine that was mistakenly posted online a month ago has now been officially released.

The content and conclusions of the 520-page report, which is stuffed with nearly 200 tables and maps, are the same as the earlier version.

“Aquatic plant communities are impacted in many areas where atrazine use is heaviest, and there is potential chronic risk to fish, amphibians and aquatic invertebrates in these same locations,” while on land, “there are risk concerns for mammals, birds, reptiles, plants, and plant communities across the country for many of the atrazine uses.”

And at current application rates, the data “suggest that the chronic fish level of concern has a high probability of being exceeded across the agricultural use area and that exceedances have been detected in monitoring data across this landscape.”

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EPA found that from 2006-2010, atrazine applications in five states accounted for 56 percent of all the atrazine applied nationwide: Illinois (17 percent), Iowa (11 percent), Nebraska (10 percent), and Indiana and Kansas (9 percent each). The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that farmers used more than 70 million pounds of atrazine in 2013, the most since 2007.

The National Corn Growers Association and atrazine manufacturer Syngenta criticized the assessment, while the Center for Biological Diversity said it shows the extent of the herbicide's harmful effects.

NCGA President Chip Bowling said that EPA based the review “on studies their own Science Advisory Panel deemed ‘flawed' just 4 years ago. This undermines public confidence in the review process and goes against the mission of using the best available science.”

In the assessment, EPA says it responded to the SAP recommendations in an addendum document released in 2013 and also used the feedback “in part to guide the amphibian and aquatic plant community portions of this assessment.”

Bowling, however, said that “more than 7,000 scientific studies have found atrazine to be safe” and said it's widely used for its reliability and ability to “combat the spread of resistant weeds.”

“It reduces soil erosion, increases crop yields, and improves wildlife habitats,” Bowling said. “Over the last 50 years, atrazine has passed some of the most rigorous safety testing in the world.”

Both Bowling and Syngenta cited a 2012 University of Chicago study that estimates the benefits of atrazine at $59 per acre.

In addition, “We're troubled the draft assessment discounted several rigorous, high-quality scientific studies and didn't adhere to EPA's own high standards,” said Marian Stypa, head of product development for Syngenta in North America. “The draft report erroneously and improperly estimated atrazine's levels of concern for birds, fish, mammals and aquatic communities that are not supported by science.”

He said that data in the 2012 SAP report “demonstrated the level of concern (LOC) for atrazine could be more than six times higher than the conservative number proposed in EPA's preliminary report, and still be protective of aquatic communities. Together with numerous errors in EPA's modeling, the agency drew scientifically unsound conclusions, based on flawed assessments that need to be corrected.”

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More reaction came from the Missouri Corn Growers Association and the National Sorghum Producers.

The company, and anyone else with an interest in the matter, will have 60 days to comment once the Federal Register notice announcing the assessment is published.

Among the commenters will surely be the Center for Biological Diversity. In a press release, CBD noted that atrazine is the second-most widely used pesticide in the U.S. - weed-killer glyphosate, commonly marketed by Monsanto as Roundup, is the first - and is already banned in Europe.

“Atrazine was found to cause reproductive harm to mammals and birds in real-world scenarios, with EPA ‘levels of concern' surpassed nearly 200-fold, according to the new EPA assessment,” CBD said. “Atrazine is present in water levels much higher than are needed to kill frogs and others amphibians, whose populations are currently in steep decline across the United States.”

CBD also pointed to “numerous studies” the group contends show atrazine causes chemical castration and feminization of male frogs “at concentrations lower than the level allowed in drinking water by the EPA.”

EPA also issued draft ecological risk assessments for simazine and propazine.

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