Atrazine: Forbes publishes false info about public health, Atrazine

There was a time when I respected big name journalism, including Forbes, but after the clearly false information Forbes published yesterday on the "safety" of the "benign" chemical Atrazine in a direct assault on public health, I'm not so sure. Jon Entine, a Forbes writer who claims to approach science with a "skeptical eye" seems to turn a blind one on the clear dangers of Atrazine. Forbes now has a credibility problem. Let's break the article down bit by bit to see why. Grab your hats!

The Forbes article begins with a premise that the Berkley researcher Dr. Tyrone Hayes, who first proved Atrazine's adverse effects on amphibians, was bested by a later independent study:

Hayes set off a firestorm despite the fact that a much larger independent study released at the very same time found no meaningful link between atrazine exposure and abnormalities.

The problem here is two-fold. First, the reason the EPA-recognized study on the effects of Atrazine on frogs claimed to not be able to refute or confirm that hypothesis, is "mainly because of the limitations of the study designs and uncertainties in the data." It was a problem with the EPA's own processes. When they solicited help from a third party, FIFRA SAP, they merely concluded "atrazine does not produce consistent, reproducible effects". Consistent. Not "none", not "all the frogs were healthy" but they couldn't reproduce consistent results. True, not everyone who drinks contaminated water will be subject to the health problems either. Where is the full report with all the frogs' outcomes?

This is a tame example of Forbes' mishandling of the truth about Atrazine. Since the full notes on the EPA experiment are not available, we'll have to take the summary at face value. Fair enough. Let's give Jon Entine that one. What next?

[Atrazine is] considered so comparatively gentle that it can be applied even after a crop’s first shoots appear above the ground.

This is misleading because the way Atrazine harms human health is not by way of the crop itself, rather by contaminating the ground water via runoff. The EPA is so aware of this and eager to dodge upsetting Syngenta, the makers of Atrazine (as well as avoid upsetting the public and showing their incompetence) that for the 2013 report on Atrazine, the EPA took the groundwater measurement in January, when toxin levels are typically low. (Atrazine is applied to farm crops in Spring.)

Here, let's let the EPA's own words tell the problem with Atrazine:

"Atrazine is a commonly reported groundwater contaminant,"

"Drinking water from a contaminated groundwater or surface water source can be a significant medium of exposure for children."

"Exposure to children can occur primarily from ingestion of contaminated drinking water, and from dermal contact or ingestion following agricultural and lawn applications"

"Atrazine is the most commonly detected pesticide in U.S. surface waters, particularly in the U.S. Midwest Corn Belt region."

In fact, the EPA has urged midwesterners not to drink municipal tap water.

The biggest problem with Jon Entine's Forbes article, however, is this paragraph:

The EPA’s assessment reflects the consensus by many scientific bodies around the world, including the World Health Organization and regulatory agencies in Australia, Canada the European Union’s safety review: atrazine has a short half-life, does not bio-accumulate in organisms, is not carcinogenic and study after study has shown it does not cause abnormalities and deformities at levels occurring in groundwater.

1. Regulatory agencies in the European Union do not agree Atrazine is safe. Atrazine has been banned in Europe since 2004.

2. The problem is not that it bio-accumulates in organisms, the problem is that exposure around the time of ovulation can cause adverse effects on embryos including chromosome aberrations (to quote the EPA, "Reproductive effects are the most sensitive effects observed in atrazine toxicity tests" also, "Change in hormone levels is the most sensitive health effect observed in an extensive battery of atrazine toxicity tests").

3. The Center for Disease Control mentions Atrazine and birth defects, "Gastroschisis and omphalocele are congenital abdominal wall defects (AWD). Atrazine and nitrates are common agricultural fertilizers" and concluded, "Indiana has significantly higher rates of AWD [abdominal wall defects] compared with national rates. Increased atrazine levels correlate with increased incidence of AWD."

Also, prolonged exposure can cause human health problems, which brings us to . . .

4. Atrazine is associated with cancer. Here's a study!

Do Forbes writers even bother to research before writing articles or has the pursuit of money completely eclipsed concern for human health and journalistic integrity? It's like we're lost in a J. J. Abrams series. I hope my child's life was worth it, jerks!

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Let me just guzzle this toxic chemical! Oh wait, ingesting Atrazine directly is fatal. Doh!

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Filed under: Poison in the well!

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