Tasmanian Times


The stakes are just too high …

Tell Syngenta to get serious

April – June is atrazine season. It’s also birth defect season. Children conceived during this three-month period have a higher chance of being born with a serious birth defect like spina bifada, cleft palate or Down syndrome.

Birth defect rates have been steadily on the rise in the U.S. for the last two decades. Yet when faced with evidence linking birth defects to in utero atrazine exposure during the spring planting season, Syngenta’s chief scientist responded by positing that “rainfall, lightning strikes and tornadoes” might just as well be the cause.

Statistically significant correlation does not determine causation, but neither is a 3% increase in serious birth defects something with which to play politics or hone talking points. These are serious matters. And apparently, Syngenta needs to be reminded of this fact –- you can do that with a letter to the editor.

is the link to a sample letter to the editor. The more personal you can make your letter, the more powerful it will be.


I quote ” This product was sold with the knowledge that no matter how it was applied by the farmers, it would invariably make its way off of the farmers’ fields and into streams, rivers and lakes, and contaminate water supplies,” Tillery said.”

Toxicologists all acknowledge that this statement is so.

Atrazine lasts longer in cooler climates such as Tasmania – half life of over 200 days – so the well documented adverse effects are more protracted than warmer climates and that includes groundwater contamination.

Triazine use in Tasmania has longstanding adverse impacts and their use here is not justified or acceptable.

Dr Alison Bleaney

CBS News Investigates

April 23, 2010 12:29 PM

EPA Takes a Second Look at Popular Pesticide Atrazine
Posted by CBS News Investigates 4 comments

By By Jack Weingart, CBS News Investigative Unit

The Environmental Protection Agency is rethinking its regulatory position on atrazine, one of the most commonly-used weed killers in America, as new scientific studies find the pesticide more hazardous than previously believed.

The EPA’s independent scientific advisory panel is set to review the EPA’s most recent evaluation of the popular pesticide atrazine and its non-cancer effects in a four-day public meeting starting next Monday, April 26.

Atrazine has been on the market and deemed safe by the U.S. government since 1958. The EPA estimates 76.5 million pounds of active ingredient are applied across the country every year, primarily on corn crops in the Midwest.

Even though the EPA concluded in 2003 that atrazine was “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans” and was safe for the environment, the EPA under Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced plans last October for a comprehensive new evaluation of the pesticide to better determine its effects.

Steve Owens, the assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances at the EPA, told CBS News that a slew of new scientific studies have prompted the agency to take another look at the pesticide.

“When we came in office last year, we at the EPA wanted to make sure that the oversight of atrazine was based on the most recent and best available science,” said Owens.

While the EPA is legally obliged to review the safety regulations of pesticides every 15 years, Owens told CBS News it is not uncommon for the agency to reevaluate pesticides more frequently.

“Atrazine is constantly undergoing review because of the extent to which it is used, the studies that are being produced and the questions that are being raised by those studies,” Owens said.

It will be left up to the scientific advisory panel to sift through the studies and advise the EPA on whether a change in EPA’s regulatory position on atrazine is necessary. The panel is composed of biologists, statisticians, toxicologists and other experts who provide independent scientific advice to the EPA on a wide-range of health and safety issues related to pesticides.

The New York Times reported last August that atrazine was “among the most common contaminants in American reservoirs and other sources of drinking water.” According to the Times, new scientific research suggested that atrazine was potentially more dangerous than previously believed at concentration levels that met federal guidelines. Currently, the EPA says that atrazine is safe in drinking water up to three parts per billion. The studies referenced by the Times suggest atrazine may still be associated with birth defects, low birth weights and menstrual problems at this level.

In honor of Earth Day yesterday, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota introduced a House bill that would ban the use of the pesticide. In a statement to the press, Ellison cited a 2009 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which also linked low exposure levels of atrazine to adverse health effects in humans.

“On this 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, I can think of no better tribute to our planet and our people than protecting it from known harmful chemicals,” Ellison said. “No one should ever have to worry if the water they drink is making them sick or preventing fertility.”

Atrazine is no stranger to regulatory scrutiny. The pesticide is currently banned in the European Union due to its persistent contamination of groundwater.

Syngenta, the leading manufacturer of atrazine, says that years of research have proven that the pesticide is safe. The Swiss-based company has stood by the safety of its product ever since the EPA announced its plans to reevaluate the pesticide.

Tim Pastoor, a principal scientist for Syngenta, called the agency’s decision to reexamine atrazine “unnecessarily burdening EPA, a waste of tax payers’ money, and a tremendous amount of work.” He expects no new regulations or any surprises when the EPA concludes its reevaluation.

“It would be mind boggling if any decision other than re-registration was made,” Pastoor said. “If you can’t register atrazine, you can’t register anything.”

Pastoor suggested that pending litigation against Syngenta may have been a factor in the EPA’s decision to reexamine the chemical.

Last month, five American Water state subsidiaries in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Iowa joined 19 other Midwest drinking water suppliers in a federal lawsuit against Syngenta and its Delaware counterpart Syngenta Crop Protection, Inc. The plaintiffs’ allege that Syngenta has made billions of dollars selling atrazine while local taxpayers were left “the ever-growing bill for filtering the toxic product from the public’s drinking water.”

The plaintiff’s attorney Stephen Tillery called the EPA’s decision to reevaluate atrazine “long overdue.”

“This product was sold with the knowledge that no matter how it was applied by the farmers, it would invariably make its way off of the farmers’ fields and into streams, rivers and lakes, and contaminate water supplies,” Tillery said.

The EPA says there is no relation between the lawsuits against Syngenta and their reevaluation of atrazine. “The lawsuits have played no role in our decision or our evaluation,” Owens said. “They are completely unrelated.”

The first of next week’s scientific advisory panel meetings will be on Monday, April 26, in Washington, DC. It is open to the public.

For more information about atrazine, refer to the EPA’s website.

via Dr Alison Bleaney

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Dr Barry Tomkins

    May 3, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    #8 Sanguine:

    This requires a lot of searching through certain data bases. In particular, one could start with the 2006 report by Braden Jenkin and myself ‘The use of chemical pesticides by the Australian plantation forest industry’ which can be found on the Forest and Wood Products Australia web-site. There is also a Summary report. Our data, however, largely concentrates on the latest year we were able to assess almost completely, which was 2004.

    The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics is one major source. We referenced eg. the ‘ABARE Australian commodity statistics 2005: Table 105: Australian sales and prices of chemicals by product type’. Presumably there is later data.

    We also referenced the APVMA 2005 ‘Agricultural chemical product sales for the calender year 2004: Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No 12, 6th December 2005’ – again there is presumably later data in a later gazette. If the publication of this is regular, there should be a 2009 Gazette with 2008 data.

    There may be data on amounts of individual chemicals such as atrazine. The Canola Growers Association may possibly provide some data on the use of atrazine/simazine for that crop.

    I do not believe it would be reasonable to expect a national or even State breakdown by catchment. I would ask you to at least peruse the Summary report by Braden and myself. Of course there have been major changes since then with the collapse of the MIS companies and the GFC. Whereas we said that in 2004 total $ sales of chemical pesticides into plantation forestry was $16.4 million and was only 0.7% of the total market for pesticides and animal health products regulated by the APVMA, that % is more likely less than 0.5% today, because there is no plantation expansion on the one hand, and there has been a substantial reduction in certain herbicide prices, hexazinone used in pine re-establishment in particular. Also sales into agriculture have picked up with improving seasonal conditions in some major areas. Wheat alone accounted for $450 million in 2004.

    It is not my role to provide the level of detail you seek. If you read our report, there is a mass of information comparing all of the crops and usage of pesticides. Tasmania is treated as one of 6 zones.

    Dr Barry Tomkins

  2. sanguine

    May 3, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    posted by you today
    “So far as plantation eucalypt establishment is concerned, as I have noted elsewhere on this site, new development has almost ceased. The common pre-plant prescriptions after site preparation included glyphosate/simazine plus or minus metsulfuron methyl (with a surfactant) or sulfometuron methyl (without a surfactant), or less commonly a proprietary product containing terbacil and sulfometuron methyl pre-packaged on a per hectare basis. Farmers often use, for small scale plantings, glyphosate and simazine. ”

    How does this conform with #7 re triazine use in Tasmania? What are the actual amounts used in the State, each catchment, by forestry, by agriculture?

    Facts indeed are what are needed.

  3. Dr Barry Tomkins

    May 3, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Dr Bleaney,

    How pathetic! You have shown your anti-plantation and anti-pesticide colours for years – undeniable. The inference from your posts is always along those lines. The fact that you do not discriminate between use in agriculture, horticulture, forestry and other uses when ranting about chemicals like atrazine is a clear indication of your mindset. You have spent years attacking plantation forestry use of atrazine, simazine and other chemicals but you rarely mention MCPA, for example.

    And much of your approach is so yesteryear! Plantation use of atrazine and simazine in Tasmania is about zero now and has been for a couple of years at least. Are you aware that in canola, for example, use of atrazine is set to decline substantially in the next few years because Roundup-ready canola will displace triazine tolerant canola varieties? The triazine tolerant varieties have been bred by conventional breeding from plants that showed resistance, but the glyphosate ready ones have been genetically engineered ie. have had a foreign gene inserted to confer glyphosate tolerance.

    As for terbuthylazine, its use in Tasmania was isolated and for trial purposes and the quantities used were minor. There was an unfortunate incident, but it is not as if there was widespread use or that it is continuing. There was a cleanup as I understand it and the amounts involved could only be classed as a minor environmental incident. I have spent years trialing it in small strip trials, and as you know it is the preferred traizine in NZ and in Europe, but it does not seem that it is going to be registered here, so that is why I have to put consideration of it aside – it is irrelevant! That is what I meant by ‘I don’t care’. It is only one of quite a number of potential herbicides for forestry that I have had to abandon after initial trial work.

    You seem to want to blow this use of terbuthylazine out of all proportion, and that is irrational. You haven’t responded ever to my points about the use of chemicals in your profession – to paraphrase your own words, ‘This is not the expected response from a supposed professional colleague involved with medicine and drug companies, when the issue is in fact the health of (Tasmanian) communities.
    Disappointing approach from medicine to say the least’.

    Mistakes in medical practice have far more serious consequences than use of herbicides in plantation forestry, or agriculture, horticulture, home gardens, whatever.

    Dr Barry Tomkins

  4. alison bleaney

    May 3, 2010 at 1:12 am

    Dear Barry,
    Let me gently remind you that this article was initially about atrazine. You were the one that started on about pesticides in forestry – I did not mention the “f” word.
    The answer to a direct question about a triazine pesticide use in forestry (spilled in our catchment) in Tasmania was – quote “Don’t know, and don’t care.” Really? This is not the expected response from a supposed professional colleague involved with forestry and chemical companies, when the issue is in fact the health of Tasmanian communities.
    Disappointing approach from forestry to say the least.
    Dr Alison Bleaney

  5. Dr Barry Tomkins

    May 3, 2010 at 12:21 am

    Re #4: Don’t know, and don’t care. Its use was small anyway – as I said, it was not used other than for operational trials, and yes, there was a localised accident. However, it is not at this time proceeding to registration and is not being used.

    Why do you not concentrate your vehemence on agriculture which uses a much wider range of pesticides? eg. apples – weed control, insect control, fungal control and often multiple applications. And why don’t you acknowledge facts like non-use of cyanazine in forestry, use of atrazine and simazine for several other crops/purposes, the NON-USE of MCPA in forestry but that it is the most widely detected pesticide in the Tasmanian water monitoring program?

    An acknowledgement that your own profession uses a much wider range of chemicals, that is, drugs/medicines, is also long overdue, as is an acknowledgement that the practice of medicine is risk-based – as is the use of pesticide chemicals.

    Please note the following – political alert which I received today:


    The widely-used herbicide MCPA will be the first currently registered chemical to be assessed for spray drift risk under a new regulatory framework developed by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority. This new framework, one of the most well-developed in the world, is designed to mitigate potential risks to human health, the environment and trade, from off-target spray drift, APVMA spokesperson Dr Simon Cubit said. MCPA, a herbicide used to control broadleaf weeds in an extensive range of crops and non-cropping situations, is the first currently-registered chemical to be subject to the new regulatory regime.

    Surprise, surprise!

    Dr Barry Tomkins

  6. alison bleaney

    May 2, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    When exactly did terbuthylazine stop being used in Tasmania by forestry ?

  7. Dr Barry Tomkins

    May 2, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    Dr Bleaney,

    Wrong again. You state that terbuthylazine is BEING used – not so. It was used under permit for operational trial purposes, but that use has lapsed and the product is not registered. Cyanazine is not used in forestry. Simazine use in Tasmania has largely ceased; sulfometuron methyl replacing it (very low use rates, maximum use in eucalypt plantations is 60 g active per hectare).

    There is also little or no expansion of plantations occurring. The 20/20 Vision of having 3 million hectares of plantations by 2020 in Australia won’t be achieved – currently there are a little less than 2 million hectares. In short, the industry is in a maintenance situation, with re-establishment, mainly in pine of about 30,000 hectares per year nationally – that is, second or later rotations. The same thing will occur in eucalypts, some already.

    Dr Barry Tomkins

  8. alison bleaney

    May 2, 2010 at 2:07 am

    Dr Alison Bleaney:
    I was directing this to all triazine users.
    We know forestry are using terbuthylazine which is biologically similar to atrazine – spilled in the George River catchment recently and known to be used in other catchments in Tasmania.

    And simazine and cyanazine are used in Tasmania. So, regulators and users beware – consumers everywhere are watching and measuring and reading up on the latest science.

    Why not use a less toxic pesticide, if you have to use one at all?

    Is that not what the code states?

  9. Dr Barry Tomkins

    May 1, 2010 at 2:11 am

    Dr Bleaney,

    I have noted this before, but be informed that none of the forestry organizations/companies in Tasmania are using atrazine, and haven’t for at least a year or more. That includes FT, Norske, Gunns (FEA – all activity stopped but also stopped using atrazine). Perhaps you should direct your attention to the agricultural users – I have noted them elsewhere on this site but they can be picked out simply by perusing an atrazine label eg. Gesaprim. Obviously I have no knowledge regarding possible usage by private growers.

    Dr Barry Tomkins

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