Science and Health Scientist Addresses Cancer Concerns Related to Atrazine

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Elizabeth Whelan, President of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) posted a great entry on ACSHs Health Facts and Fears blog on the growing attempts by activist groups to convince the EPA to ban atrazine due to cancer claims and other health concerns.

Atrazine is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world. It helps farmers fight weeds on corn, sugar cane and other crops, leading to dramatic increases in crop yields. Without it, our food supply would be in jeopardy. Activists want the public to believe that atrazine causes cancer and birth defects, but its simply not true. Whelan writes:

“Atrazines health and safety record is stellar. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires monitoring for a multitude of chemicals, including atrazine. Levels of atrazine in U.S. waters are well within the federal lifetime drinking water standard a level containing a 1,000-fold safety buffer. The Environmental Protection Agency in 2006 completed a 12-year review involving 60,000 different studies and concluded that the current use of atrazine poses “no harm” to the general population infants, children and adults. According to this same regulatory agency (which oversees pesticide use) atrazine is “one of the most closely examined pesticides in the marketplace.”

Whelan points out that many activists are not willing to accept this assessment and were able to cast doubts upon the issue with the EPA. As a result, last fall the EPA announced it would initiate a re-re-re-evaluation of atrazine and health. These activists will not be happy until the EPA bans this herbicide, which would then open the door for activists to attack more chemicals, claiming they are unsafe.

Finally, Whelan points to the media for “scaring” the public into thinking that these “chemicals” are unsafe and that the manner in which they are evaluated should be changed:

“Many of the recent media chemical scares, like the two hour “toxic” presentation on CNN, argue that a) there are tens of thousands of “chemicals” out there; and b) the current government policy, assuming these chemicals are safe until contrary evidence was presented, must be reversed so that a chemical is considered hazardous until it is “proven safe.” But how do you prove something to be safe? Its like trying to prove a negative it cant be done. The example of atrazine with decades of safe use, thousands of studies that found no harm to humans and years of getting a green light from EPA (which is not known for understating chemical risks) leaves us with the question: After all these evaluations and years of use, if atrazine doesnt meet the criteria for “safety,” what chemical possibly could?”