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Trump EPA to Weaken Safeguards of Pesticide Linked to Birth Defects, Cancer

Atrazine Reversal Follows Former Syngenta Lobbyist Becoming EPA Advisor

WASHINGTON - The Trump administration announced in a document posted Thursday that it plans to weaken environmental safeguards for atrazine, a weedkilling pesticide linked to birth defects and cancer in humans.

The change will increase by 50 percent the amount of atrazine allowed in U.S. waterways.

Atrazine, the nation’s second most-used pesticide after glyphosate, is banned in Europe but widely present in U.S. waterways and drinking-water supplies. Independent research and a multiyear EPA risk assessment found it extremely harmful to fish, frogs and other aquatic animals.

In increasing the amount of atrazine considered safe for frogs and other aquatic organisms, the plan reverses a 2016 EPA plan to reduce the levels threefold.

The about-face on a pesticide widely used on corn, sorghum and sugarcane crops came after its manufacturer, Syngenta, and the National Corn Growers Association asked the agency to discount independent research demonstrating the pesticide’s harm at lower levels.

“To please Syngenta, the Trump EPA has rejected decades of independent research showing atrazine can’t be safely used at any level,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The pro-industry zealots now running the EPA’s pesticide office are making a mockery of science and eliminating key safety measures, all for company profits.”

About 70 million pounds of atrazine are used in the U.S. each year. The decision to weaken atrazine protections is a major victory for the pesticide industry, because every single currently approved use of atrazine was estimated to exceed EPA’s proposed more-protective safety threshold identified in 2016.

“Atrazine sprayed on the fields ends up in our drinking water and affects the development of the fetus,” said Olga Naidenko, the Environmental Working Group’s vice president for science investigations. “Restricting the spraying of atrazine is essential for protecting both environment and human health. Although people should no longer be shocked that the Trump EPA bends over backward at the behest of the pesticide industry, they should be outraged at this latest ploy, which will lead to more children being exposed to this toxic chemical.”

At issue is the Concentration Equivalent Level of Concern, or CELOC, a regulatory threshold meant to protect aquatic ecosystems from pesticide pollution. The current CELOC in place is a 60-day average concentration of 10 parts per billion, or ppb, of atrazine. The proposed action would raise that level to 15 ppb, nearly five times higher than the 3.4 ppb the EPA identified as safe in 2016. Water concentrations that exceed the CELOC in any given year are subject to mitigation measures meant to bring the watershed back into compliance.

In 2016 the EPA found that atrazine is commonly present in water at levels much higher than those that kill frogs and other amphibians, whose populations are declining steeply across the U.S. Numerous studies have shown that atrazine chemically castrates and feminizes male frogs, even at concentrations lower than the level the EPA currently allows in drinking water.

“When atrazine levels allowed in our drinking water are high enough to turn a male tadpole into a female frog, our regulatory system has failed us,” said Donley. “With Trump’s EPA reversing even the most commonsense protections, our health, and the health of all species, is in serious danger.”

The EPA’s about-face on atrazine comes after Jeff Sands, a former Syngenta lobbyist, was appointed as a senior agricultural advisor to then-EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, in October 2017. Sands received a waiver from Trump’s pledge to forbid political appointees from working on issues involving former employers or clients. Sands has since left the EPA.

In a similar move, the Trump EPA last year proposed to remove safety protections put in place in 2006 to protect young children from developing disease caused by atrazine exposure. The EPA used a model developed by Syngenta to support its assertion that it was “safe” for infants to be exposed to atrazine levels 30 times higher than was previously considered safe.

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