Kansas ag leader presents atrazine testimony on Capitol Hill

Other drinking water standards in other countries are higher than that of the United States. Canada’s standard is five ppb, Australia is 40 ppb, and the United Kingdom is 15 ppb

By Jennifer M. Latzke

Like a stubborn Halloween monster, it’s the issue that refuses to die.

The safety of the herbicide atrazine and its family of related triazines continues to be a rallying point for environmental activist groups and trial attorneys. And according to testimony from agricultural leaders, the Environmental Protection Agency is putting aside scientific evidence showing atrazine’s safety because of scare tactics and anti-agriculture agendas.

The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee held oversight hearings in September to examine the impact of EPA regulations on agriculture. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was called to defend the agency’s stance on a variety of issues, including National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits for pesticides, water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico and the Endangered Species Act. Leaders from various farm organizations also testified to how EPA’s regulations are tying producers’ hands in raising the food, fiber and fuel for this country and our export markets.

One of those leaders was Jere White, Kansas Corn Growers Association executive director. He testified Sept. 23 on the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Panel re-examination of atrazine–despite a July 2009 EPA report determining atrazine “…is not likely to cause cancer in humans,” which is the agency’s stock description of a substance that does not trigger concerns over cancer.

Despite the independent science behind this decision, though, White testified trial lawyers and environmental activists went to the courts to push further regulation of atrazine by the EPA. By August 2009 EPA was forced to announce a new, comprehensive, scientific re-review of atrazine, calling for four SAPs between November 2009 and September 2010, with two more slated for 2011.

“Amazingly, EPA actually cited the media and activist reports for re-opending a scientific review process they’d just put to rest,” White testified. EPA wasn’t scheduled to review atrazine again until 2013 when it would be reviewing all pesticides.

White questioned why farmers, in the middle of fall harvest of corn and sorghum, were only given 13 business days to react to a 677-page EPA white paper.

“Why were we given so little time between the posting of questions on EPA’s website and its SAP, and even less time than that to meet written comment submission requirements?” he asked.

Even more disturbing than EPA’s confusing review processes is the trial attorney harassment of stakeholders, White testified.

“I testified in support of atrazine at last week’s SAP, sharing our concerns over trial attorney harassment of stakeholders,” he said. “The very next day, activist attorneys sought and obtained subpoenas against Kansas Corn, Kansas Grain Sorghum and me personally.

“Meanwhile, in Washington, this re-review barrels on like a runaway train and farmers are left to conclude that what we are witnessing here is not science-driven, but merely politics, in a manner I have not witnessed in 16 years of bird-dogging this issue for my members,” he continued. “For the farmer, however, atrazine is not a matter of politics. It is a matter of staying in business in what is still a rough economy.”

More than half of all U.S. corn acres, two-thirds of U.S. sorghum acreage and 90 percent of sugarcane is protected from weeds by atrazine, White added. EPA itself estimated in 2006 atrazine can save corn growers up to $28 per acre. University of Chicago economist Don Coursey has reported the loss of atrazine would cost the United States 50,000 jobs and $5 billion to disappear from the economy, he added.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807, or jlatzke@hpj.com.

World Health Organization announces new atrazine standard

The World Health Organization, Oct. 5, released a recommendation of a drinking water standard of 100 parts per billion of atrazine, up from the previous WHO standard of two parts per billion. The current atrazine drinking water standard enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is three parts per billion.

Jere White, executive director of the Kansas Grain Sorghum Association and the Kansas Corn Growers Association said this reaffirms atrazine’s safety.

“While our EPA is in the middle of an unscheduled re-review of atrazine because of activist campaigns, the World Health Organization quietly relied on scientific evidence,” he said. “Here in the U.S., activists, insisting that atrazine levels at or even below three parts per billion are dangerous, have led EPA and the American taxpayer on an expensive wild goose chase.”

The WHO summary is available on its website, www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/chemicals/atrazine/en, and will be included in the WHO 4th Edition of the Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality. Other drinking water standards in other countries are higher than that of the United States. Canada’s standard is five ppb, Australia is 40 ppb, and the United Kingdom is 15 ppb.

Kansas ag leader presents atrazine testimony on Capitol Hill