News / USA

Popular Weed Killer Stirs Health, Environmental Concerns

POOLESVILLE, Maryland -- Atrazine is the most widely-used weed-killer in the United States. It is also one of the most controversial.  Studies have linked atrazine to environmental damage and adverse health effects, including cancer.  While the European Union banned its use nearly ten years ago, it is still approved for use in U.S. corn, sugarcane and sorghum fields.  

Jamie Jamison produces corn, wheat and soybeans on his 500-hectare farm.  To boost production, he uses genetically modified seeds. To control weeds, he uses Atrazine. “It gives us good long-season control and allows us to have a good crop," Jamison said.

Jamison takes precautions when he sprays atrazine on his fields. He knows the wind could take the pesticide to unintended areas and kill other crops, or pollute waterways. But he's convinced its benefits outweigh the risks.   

But opposition to Atrazine is growing. “I think the most convincing evidence of effects on humans is actually the ones on birth defects data, and also reports on effects on male reproductive fitness, poor sperm quality and low sperm mobility," said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, a private environmental group.
 
Sass says critics are not convinced by the safety studies done by Atrazine's leading manufacturer, the Swiss giant, Syngenta. “I think Syngenta has been able to use its lobbying and financial weight to keep this argument going on for so long,” Sass said.

Although Atrazine's product label says it is toxic to aquatic invertebrates, Tim Pastoor, the company's principle scientist, says Syngenta's studies prove Atrazine is safe, if used properly. “As principal scientist with Syngenta I take it very seriously," Pastoor said.

Pastoor says U.S. farmers annually apply more than 35 million kilograms of Atrazine on their fields.  He concedes it doesn't always stay there.

“On occasion, Atrazine gets into the water, but in such low amounts that it will not harm human or environmental health,” Pastoor said.  

Fish pathologist Vicki Blazer, with the U.S. Geological Survey, studies fish mortality and mutations  and collects evidence on water pollutants. She has found fish with compromised immune systems. She blames that on Atrazine and other farm runoff.  

“... the spreading of poultry litter and then runoff during storms, plus herbicides such as Atrazine and other pesticides we are finding,” Blazer said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declined to comment for this report.  But EPA's website acknowledges public concerns about Atrazine in drinking water. “Europe has made a very reasonable and very scientific decision that people shouldn’t drink pesticides in their drinking water,” Sass said.  

Syngenta continues to defend the safety of Atrazine when it's used responsibly.  U.S. farmers like Jamie Jamison, who appreciates the fewer weeds and bigger harvests, plan to continue using it.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs