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Sunday, August 15, 2004

Kermit the Hermaphrodite 

No one can accuse the Bush administration of failing to take the long view. After two or three generations of relaxed environmental restrictions, gay marriage may no longer be an issue:
Things were not looking good a few years ago for the makers of atrazine, America's second-leading weedkiller. The company was seeking approval from the Environmental Protection Agency to keep the highly profitable product on the market. But scientists were finding it was disrupting hormones in wildlife -- in some cases turning frogs into bizarre creatures bearing both male and female sex organs.

Last October, concerns about the herbicide led the European Union to ban atrazine, starting in 2005. Yet that same month, after 10 years of contentious scientific review, the EPA decided to permit ongoing use in the United States with no new restrictions.

Herbicide approvals are complicated, and there is no one reason that atrazine passed regulatory muster in this country. But close observers give significant credit to a single sentence that was added to the EPA's final scientific assessment last year.

Hormone disruption, it read, cannot be considered a "legitimate regulatory endpoint at this time" -- that is, it is not an acceptable reason to restrict a chemical's use -- because the government had not settled on an officially accepted test for measuring such disruption.

Those words, which effectively rendered moot hundreds of pages of scientific evidence, were adopted by the EPA as a result of a petition filed by a Washington consultant working with atrazine's primary manufacturer, Syngenta Crop Protection. The petition was filed under the Data Quality Act, a little-known piece of legislation that, under President Bush's Office of Management and Budget, has become a potent tool for companies seeking to beat back regulation.
Click on the link above to read about the prostate cancer rate at Syngenta's weedkiller production facility in Louisiana. You will also learn what happened when tadpoles were exposed to 0.1 parts per billion of atrazine -- one-thirtieth of the level legally allowed in U.S. drinking water.
"The argument that it costs too much to protect people does not sell," said Thomas O. McGarity, a professor at the University of Texas Law School in Austin and president of the Washington-based Center for Progressive Regulation, a network of academics that supports regulatory action to protect health, safety and the environment. "But what does sell is this idea that the science is not good" . . . .

"What a coincidence that everybody can find an effect of atrazine on gonads," Hayes said, "except [those] funded by Syngenta."
See also this.

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