(CN) — A coalition of green groups filed suit in the Ninth Circuit Friday, saying the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of a pesticide would harm the environment and human health.
The Pesticide Action Network and several other environmental and farmworker advocates joined together as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, saying EPA’s approval of atrazine was an illegal giveaway to chemical companies and contrary to the agency’s mission to safeguard environmental and public health.
“If EPA were actually doing its job, this chemical would have been off the market years ago,” said Kristin Schafer, executive director of Pesticide Action Network. “The science on atrazine’s harms is so clear that it’s been banned in Europe for more than a decade, yet here in this country EPA is now loosening use restrictions — once again putting corporate interests over public health or the environment.”
Atrazine is a widely used herbicide in the United States, used by farmers to control weeds, particularly those of the broad-leafed variety.
Multiple studies show that the chemical is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it potentially wreaks havoc on the hormone systems and reproductive systems in the human body.
“Atrazine exposure has been shown to result in delays or changes in pubertal development in female rats; conflicting results have been observed in males,” the EPA wrote in a report published in 2009.
While the green groups accuse the agency of failing to adhere to the findings of its own scientists and other researchers, the agency says many of the studies that attempt to ascertain the effects of the pesticide are inconclusive and lack quality data.
“Atrazine is a trusted and effective tool for producers,” said Congressman Jason Smith, R-Missouri. “This decision provides certainty for continued access to a critical herbicide.”
But green groups say the EPA under the Trump administration is using the cover of scientific uncertainty to do favors for the chemical and agricultural industries.
“In siding with the pesticide industry over young children, the pesticide office at the EPA has sunk to a new low,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are few pesticides that cause this much harm at such low doses.”
The Center criticized the EPA for approving a full slate of controversial pesticides, intimating that EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler may be trying to push through the Trump administration agenda in what many pundits believe are its final days.
On Tuesday, the EPA approved dicamba, which is controversial both in the environmental community and the agricultural community.
Monsanto developed dicamba to work in conjunction with corn and soybeans that are genetically engineered by the chemical company to be resistant to it. While farmers who use the products are satisfied, dicamba is prone to drift when applied and can compromise the crops of neighboring farmers who have not planted the genetically modified version of the crops.
The EPA says it has implemented measures that farmers must follow that make such drift events more unlikely, but some in the agricultural community remain skeptical the measures can be implemented.
Farmers have complained the regulations surrounding dicamba application are so lengthy and complicated that it may be impossible to legally apply it.
The EPA approval came after the Ninth Circuit revoked the agency’s approvals of two out of the three dicamba products, saying the agency failed to consider the environmental and economic costs of using dicamba.
“The EPA refused to quantify or estimate the amount of damage caused by OTT application of dicamba herbicides, or even to admit that there was any damage at all,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge William Fletcher, a Bill Clinton appointee, in a scathing 58-page decision.
The agency clearly believes its latest decision is predicated on the available science.
Atrazine, unlike dicamba, is not controversial in most sectors of the agriculture industry, as it is widely used. In fact, atrazine is the second-most applied pesticide in the United States. More than 70 million pounds are applied every year, though the chemical is banned in more than 35 countries.
Paraquat, 1,3-D and multiple pyrethroids were all approved in recent weeks.