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Category: EU Issues

European Union Bans Atrazine, While the United States Negotiates Continued Use
By Jennifer Beth Sass, PhD, Aaron Colangelo, JD Provided by Steve Tvedten
August 07, 2006

This peer reviewed article addresses the science and public health concerns with use of atrazine, the second largest pesticide use by volume in the world, and very widespread in its use in the American Midwest on corn.

Stephen L. Tvedten


Atrazine is a common agricultural herbicide with endocrine disruptor activity. There is evidence that it interferes with reproduction and development, and may cause cancer. Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved its continued use in October 2003, that same month the European Union (EU) announced a ban of atrazine because of ubiquitous and unpreventable water contamination. The authors reviewed regulatory procedures and government documents, and report efforts by the manufacturer of atrazine, Syngenta, to influence the U.S. atrazine assessment, by submitting flawed scientific data as evidence of no harm, and by meeting repeatedly and privately with EPA to negotiate the government’s regulatory approach. Many of the details of these negotiations continue to be withheld from the public, despite EPA regulations and federal open-government laws that require such decisions to be made in the open. Key words: atrazine; legislation; industry influence; herbicide; regulation; ethics.



There is suggestive evidence of increased incidences of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, and multiple myeloma in people exposed to atrazine, particularly in combination with other agriculture chemicals. Evidence that atrazine impairs hormonal activity in humans and wildlife suggests that exposures during early life or to people with illnesses may be particularly damaging. Importantly, co-exposures to atrazine and other pesticides commonly found in agriculture watersheds may be much more hazardous than single-chemical exposures.33–35 Despite these data, atrazine continues to be classified by EPA as “not likely” to cause cancer, and EPA maintains that its hormone-disruption activity cannot be evaluated due to the lack of appropriately pre-validated tests. This head-in-the-sand approach is in stark contrast to the decision by the European Union in 2005 to issue a ban on atrazine use.

In this commentary we have tried to provide a survey of relevant scientific data, and develop the regulatory context surrounding the U.S. federal assessment of these data. Although there may be disagreement as to whether or not the atrazine manufacturer succeeded in its attempts to weaken the regulation of its product, there can be no doubt that such attempts were made. Through at least 50 private meetings, the manufacturer enjoyed considerably more access to regulators and the regulatory decision-making process than was extended to environmental groups, impacted communities, water utilities, and others through the public process. In the United States, data used to regulate pesticides are primarily derived from industry-sponsored studies. In some cases, the data reports are submitted by the manufacturers’ lawyers, suggesting that the science has undergone legal review. We suggest that this practice places an unrealistic expectation on the manufacturer to generate and submit data that may be potentially damning of its product, and an unrealistic burden on government experts to review studies that may be biased by design and incompletely reported. Alternate models may provide more transparency and credibility, and should be considered. For example, toxicity testing for chemical registration could be sponsored by industry, but performed in independent or government testing laboratories, with results directly available to government risk assessors and publicly accessible, limited only as absolutely necessary for legitimate protection of confidential business information. Recognizing problems of corporate malfeasance in reporting of drug trial data, Drummond Rennie, deputy editor of JAMA, was recently reported by the Washington Post calling for “A perfectly independent agency. . . ,” to conduct drug trials, saying, “There will be two classes of trials—the believable ones and the non-believable ones.”81 The situation for industrial chemicals is no different.

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