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A red-legged frog sits in a backyard pond in Washington state. The herbicide atrazine, common in the U.S. but banned many other places, is linked to hermaphroditic amphibians as well as various harmful health effects in humans. (Photo: Dan Dzurisin/flickr/cc)

A red-legged frog sits in a backyard pond in Washington state. The herbicide atrazine, common in the U.S. but banned many other places, is linked to hermaphroditic amphibians as well as various harmful health effects in humans. (Photo: Dan Dzurisin/flickr/cc)

EPA Sued for 'Once Again Putting Corporate Interests Over Public Health or the Environment' by Reapproving Herbicide Atrazine

"We're not going to just stand by and watch another generation get poisoned by one of the most dangerous pesticides still in use."

Jessica Corbett

While taking aim at the Trump administration's broader pesticide agenda, a coalition of advocacy groups sued Friday over the Environmental Protection Agency's recent reauthorization of atrazine, which is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States but off limits in dozens of countries due to health and safety concerns.

"If EPA were actually doing its job, this chemical would have been off the market years ago," declared Kristin Schafer, executive director of Pesticide Action Network (PAN). "The science on atrazine's harms is so clear that it's been banned in Europe for more than a decade, yet here in this country EPA is now loosening use restrictions—once again putting corporate interests over public health or the environment."

The agency's atrazine decision last month "is part of a sweeping effort by the EPA in recent months to quickly approve numerous extremely controversial and harmful pesticides," the groups behind the lawsuit—Beyond Pesticides, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, PAN North America, and Rural Coalition—said in a joint statement.

Filed in 9th Circuit Court of Appeals just days before crucial U.S. elections, the suit (pdf) challenges the EPA's reapproval of atrazine as well as propazine and simazine, two other pesticides in the triazine class that were part of the same review process.

The filing also follows the EPA's approval of three dicamba products on Tuesday. Also vowing to challenge that move, Center for Food Safety legal director George Kimbrell said that "rather than evaluating the significant costs of dicamba drift as the 9th Circuit told them the law required, EPA rushed reapproval as a political prop just before the election, sentencing farmers and the environment to another five years of unacceptable damage."

While EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler—a Trump appointee named in the new suit—called the final interim decision on atrazine "another example of the Trump administration taking action in support of America's farmers," advocacy groups accused the administration prioritizing corporate chemical interests over public health, wildlife, and the environment.

Sylvia Wu, senior attorney at Center for Food Safety, is representing the petitioners in the lawsuit.

"Rather than doing its job of protecting human health and the environment, EPA heeded to political expediency and rushed to reapprove this toxic pesticide," Wu said. "We are in court to make sure EPA answers for its blatant disregard of the lives of our nation's farmworkers and their children."

As Common Dreams reported on the EPA's decision in September, critics slammed the agency for discarding precautions mandated under the Food Quality Protection Act, ignoring epidemiological research, and using a more permissive benchmark in its assessment that relies on a model developed by Syngenta, atrazine's primary manufacturer.

"In siding with the pesticide industry over young children, the pesticide office at the EPA has sunk to a new low," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "There are few pesticides that cause this much harm at such low doses. We're not going to just stand by and watch another generation get poisoned by one of the most dangerous pesticides still in use."

Reporting last year on the administration's plans to weaken safeguards for the herbicide, Civil Eats noted:

Independent research has shown atrazine's impact on aquatic life is significant: it can lead to reduced survival, growth, immunity, and sensory capacities, increased disease, as well as reproductive and developmental abnormalities, and behavioral changes. There's also evidence the herbicide harms plants and wildlife. In humans, it's associated with thyroid, ovarian, and other cancers, low birth outcomes, pre-term delivery, and birth defects. In 2016, California added atrazine and related chemicals to the Proposition 65 list, listing them as substances known to cause reproductive and developmental toxicity.

"EPA's failure to remove atrazine represents a dramatic failure of a federal agency charged with safeguarding the health of people, wildlife, and the environment," Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, said Friday. "We seek to uphold the agency's duty to act on the science, in the face of viable alternatives to this highly toxic weedkiller."

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