Politics, Activist Agendas Trump Science in EPA Report that Would Effectively Ban Atrazine
Farmers are wondering if EPA will use science or activist-driven politics to determine the future of atrazine.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a federal agency bound by law to make determinations based on sound scientific evidence. Over the years, the Triazine Network, and informal coalition of farmers and agriculture organizations, has been holding EPA’s feet to the fire to ensure verified, credible science is the basis for considering the fates of crop protection tools like atrazine. Based on EPA’s recent leak of an atrazine ecological risk assessment, sound science has left the building. The leaked preliminary report recommends an aquatic life level of concern (LOC) at 3.4 parts per billion (ppb) on a 60-day average. EPA’s current aquatic LOC for atrazine is 10 ppb for 60 days, however all available credible scientific evidence suggests a safe aquatic life LOC should be 25 ppb or greater.
EPA Releases Atrazine Report Accidentally?
According to EPA insiders, the 1,100 page report was “accidentally” posted on the agency’s website April 29 but removed days later. Now EPA officials say the report has not been finalized and will be published in two or three months. When it is officially published, a comment period will be opened. During this time, EPA will receive comments from the public on this report. If the timeline is followed, the comment period will be active during late growing season into harvest for fall crops.
EPA’s Leaked Recommendations Would Amount to a De Facto Ban on Atrazine
This accidental report relies on several questionable studies, including studies discredited by EPA’s own Scientific Advisory Panels. It appears these flawed studies are being used to recommend an incredibly low aquatic life LOC for atrazine. This LOC would effectively ban the use of atrazine in a large portion of the Corn Belt. Even more concerning is the potential for this report to set a precedent to ban almost any other approved crop protection tool.
EPA Decisions Can Have Far-Reaching Consequences
An unscientific, activist-driven decision in this “leaked” report would lead to a de facto ban on atrazine, negatively impacting farmers and the environment. For years, activist groups have attacked atrazine. It is one of the most effective herbicide formulations on the market today. It is also the most studied and has a remarkable safety record. The activists’ strategy is to undermine science and pressure the EPA to ban atrazine. This is the first step in setting the groundwork to accomplish the ultimate goal – a ban on all chemicals used on-farm.
Family Farmers Would Suffer
In 2003, EPA estimated banning atrazine would cost farmers $28 per acre. Considering inflation, that number has increased with the years. Ironically, profit margins for corn growers are currently about $30 per acre. Even with a conservative estimate of $30 per acre, any profit margin farmers now have in this time of low commodity prices would be erased if the EPA continues down this path.
The Environment Would Suffer
Many farmers rely on the long-lasting efficiency of atrazine to control weeds in conservation tillage and no-till farming practices. Banning atrazine would limit farmers’ conservation efforts, leading to increased soil erosion and fossil fuel use.
“If half of no-till corn farmers were to go back to conventional tillage, soil erosion would increase by 77 million tons/year and fuel use would climb by 31 million gallons/year. At the same time, if half of reduced tillage corn farmers were to go back to conventional tillage, soil erosion would increase by an additional 50 million tons/year and fuel use would increase an additional 13 million gallons/year.” (Fawcett, R.S. 2007. Proceedings Southern Weed Science Soc.)
Consumers Will Ultimately Suffer
Whether or not the report was intentionally leaked, EPA’s refusal to use sound scientific practices when making regulatory decisions is cause for significant concern. Politics and emotion will only erode the process, hurting the environment, putting family farmers out of business and ultimately costing consumers and our economy.
Quoted from the front page of the EPA report published online on 4-29-16 (later removed from the EPA website)
REFINED ECOLOGICAL RISK ASSESSMENT FOR ATRAZINE
This refined assessment presents the ecological risks posed by the use of the herbicide atrazine. Based on the results from hundreds of toxicity studies on the effects of atrazine on plants and animals, over 20 years of surface water monitoring data, and higher tier aquatic exposure models, this risk assessment concludes that aquatic plant communities are impacted in many areas where atrazine use is heaviest, and there is potential chronic risk to fish, amphibians, and aquatic invertebrates in these same locations. In the terrestrial environment, there are risk concerns for mammals, birds, reptiles, plants and plant communities across the country for many of the atrazine uses. EPA levels of concern for chronic risk are exceeded by as much as 22, 198, and 62 times for birds, mammals, and fish, respectively. For aquatic phase amphibians, a weight of evidence analysis concluded there is potential for chronic risks to amphibians based on multiple effects endpoint concentrations compared to measured and predicted surface water concentrations. The breadth of terrestrial plant species and families potentially impacted by atrazine use at current labeled rates, as well as reduced rates of 0.5 and 0.25 lbs. a.i./A, suggest that terrestrial plant biodiversity and communities are likely to be impacted from off-field exposures via runoff and spray drift. Average atrazine concentrations in water at or above 5 μg/L for several weeks are predicted to lead to reproductive effects in fish, while a 60-day average of 3.4 μg/L has a high probability of impacting aquatic plant community primary productivity, structure and function.