New Studies Confirm Widely Used Agricultural Herbicide Poses Health Threat

NRDC Urges EPA to Ban Atrazine and Investigate Alleged Manufacturer Cover-Up

WASHINGTON, DC (June 3, 2002) -- Based on the findings of two new studies, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) today called on the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the use of atrazine, the nation's most widely used weed-killer, and launch a criminal investigation of Syngenta, atrazine's principal manufacturer, for allegedly covering up the studies.

Both studies show that atrazine, which is used by farmers throughout the Midwest on corn and other crops, poses a significant threat to public health. One study found that, at a level 30 times lower than EPA's tap water standard of 3 parts per billion, atrazine causes sexual deformities in frogs. The deformities included having both ovaries and testes, and testes containing eggs in addition to sperm. The other study found that the herbicide is linked to high rates of prostate cancer among workers at a Syngenta atrazine manufacturing plant in Louisiana. Documents obtained by NRDC suggest that Syngenta, a Swiss company created by the 2000 merger of Novartis and Zeneca, illegally suppressed the studies' findings.

"We believe that Syngenta may have illegally withheld evidence that atrazine may cause cancer in humans," says Jon Devine, an NRDC senior attorney. "That's a big problem because it's everywhere. It's sprayed on fields, it gets in our water, and millions of Americas are drinking it."

The frog study became public only after the scientist doing the research, Tyrone Hayes, ended his contract with Syngenta, and conducted his experiment independently. (For more information on Hayes' study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in mid-April, go to Syngenta conducted the second study at its atrazine manufacturing plant in Louisiana. After collecting data that shows a link between atrazine and prostate cancer among its own workers, Syngenta apparently withheld the information from EPA for years. NRDC learned of the increased cancers and blew the whistle, informing EPA last August.

Several European countries, including France, Germany and Italy, have banned atrazine. In contrast, EPA permits atrazine levels in drinking water to rise and fall over the course of the year, so long as the yearly average remains below 3 parts per billion. But seasonal spikes are often much higher. Even more troubling, in June 2000, the EPA Scientific Advisory Panel voted to recommend that atrazine be reclassified as either "not likely" to be a human carcinogen, or that there is "not enough information to classify." In doing so, the panel contradicted EPA career scientists who had recommended that atrazine be classified as a "likely" human carcinogen. Among the cited reasons for the recommendation: "limited data were available for review." Had the EPA panel known the results of Hayes' frog study and Syngenta's worker study, it likely would have reached a different conclusion about atrazine's dangers. EPA is expected to rule on atrazine's status as early as August.

"Several European countries have banned atrazine, and we're asking EPA to do the same," said Devine. "We also are calling for a criminal investigation of Syngenta. The idea that a company could withhold critical scientific data to boost its profits is appalling."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related NRDC Pages

April 15, 2002, Study Finding Atrazine Causes Serious Sexual Side Effects in Frogs
Means Major Problems for Public Health and Environment

New Studies Confirm Dangers of Atrazine, a Widely Used Herbicide