Huffington Post they weigh the issue of the safety of weed killer in drinking water and raise the alarming point that the EPA relies heavily on industry-backed studies to support its safety.
Atrazine is one of the most widely used herbicides in the U.S. An estimated 76 million pounds of the chemical are sprayed on corn and other fields in the U.S. each year, sometimes ending up in rivers, streams, and drinking water supplies. It has been the focus of intense scientific debate over its potential to cause cancer, birth defects, and hormonal and reproductive problems. As the Huffington Post Investigative Fund reported in a series of articles last fall, the EPA failed to warn the public that the weed-killer had been found at levels above federal safety limits in drinking water in at least four states. Some water utilities are suing Syngenta to have it pay their costs of filtering the chemical.
Now the EPA is re-evaluating the health risks of atrazine, which was banned in the European Union in 2004 due to a lack of evidence to support its safe use. That ban includes Switzerland, where atrazine's manufacturer, Syngenta, is headquartered. The EPA expects to announce results of its re-examination of the herbicide in September 2010. It could take action ranging from restrictions on its use on crops to an outright ban. Or it could permit continued use without additional restrictions.
EPA records obtained by The Huffington Post Investigative Fund show that at least half of the 6,611 studies the agency is reviewing to help make its decision were conducted by scientists and organizations with a financial stake in atrazine, including Syngenta or its affiliated companies and research contractors.
But is industry-funded research always reliable? A pair of scientists funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the EPA scrutinized a Syngenta-funded Canadian study - one that is not on the EPA's list. The scientists said they found numerous inaccuracies and misleading statements.
The scientists who questioned the study, University of South Florida biologists Jason Rohr and Krista McCoy, published their critique in the March 2010 issue of the journal Conservation Letters. In all, they tallied what they said were 122 inaccurate and 22 misleading statements, of which 96.5 percent appeared to support atrazine's safety. The widely cited study focused on the herbicide's effects on fish and other aquatic creatures.