Atrazine associated with human health harms - EPA says so!

EPA really "wowed" me yesterday (Tuesday), during its presentation of the human health impacts associated with atrazine exposure. EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency (but sometimes the "P" is a negotiated endpoint) was presenting to its Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) on some new atrazine data from the peer-reviewed published literature. That is, not the science that is manufactured by the chemical manufacturer, Syngenta. The Syngenta-science is being presented today, by the company's own stable of well-dressed experts. Yesterday was the real stuff.

So, what are the independent white-coats saying? You can view EPA's powerpoint presentation by staff epidemiologist Dr. Carol Christensen in the docket. Here is my pick of the highlights:

Women’s reproductive health

Atrazine exposure was associated with delayed timing of menopause (Farr 2006), and with a 2-fold increased risk of gestational diabetes among women who had direct exposure to atrazine during pregnancy. (Saldena 2007)

EPA Conclusions: "The data support the hypothesis that atrazine may affect hormonal milieu, and possibly reproductive health outcomes."

Mens reproductive health

Men with detectable atrazine in their urine were 11-times more likely to have poor semen quality than men without atrazine (95% CI 1.3-98.9). (Swan 2003)

EPA Conclusions: "Suggestive of possible association, replication needed."

Fetal and infant outcomes:

Abdominal wall defects in infants was correlated with surface water atrazine contamination (Mattix 2007). Gastroschisis (a specific abdominal wall defect) was elevated in infants of mothers residing in areas of high surface and groundwater atrazine levels (Waller 2010). Birth defects were associated with conception during spring atrazine use (Winchester 2009). Infant limb abnormalities and abdominal cavity defects were more common in infants born to mothers residing closer to corn and soybean fields (Ochoa-Acuna, 2009)

EPA Conclusions: The studies have some major uncertainties, but taken together they suggest atrazine "may play a role in developmental effects".

EPA also reported a “possible association” between atrazine exposure during fetal development and low birth weight. (Villanueva 2005; Savitz 1997; Ochoa-Acuna 2009; Munger 1997)

Although EPA backed away from concluding that atrazine was the cause of the health and development abnormalities above, it did declare that there was “an association” between atrazine exposure and the effects. EPA also pointed out that similar effects occurred in laboratory animal studies with atrazine, thus strengthening the scientific confidence in the epidemiology.

People, don't drink the atrazine-Kool Aid! It's "associated" with some seriously unwanted effects, especially if exposure is during early developmental life stages.

EPA updates its atrazine activities here. Next step is another review of the human impacts (epidemiology) sometime in the first half of 2011. When is EPA going to assert its "P" and actually take this stuff off the shelves?!

About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Federal Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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