Baby Killer Or Just A Weed Killer?

By Michael Fumento

Investor’s Business Daily, August 4, 1999
Copyright 1999 Investor’s Business Daily

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Have you seen a live baby lately? From a slew of environmentalist "studies" pumped out recently, you’d think they’d be teetering on extinction.

Fortunately, they’re doing just fine, thank you. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the mental health of the poor parents who may actually believe these groups.

Even in Washington’s 95-degree heat, the EWG managed to produce a chilling cover for its report.

Take one example. In February, the Environmental Working Group released a report filled with propaganda against a tremendously useful insecticide called methyl parathion. Yet just this week, the Environmental Protection Agency banned methyl parathion, with a cry of "Damn the science and full speed ahead!"

Now the popular herbicide atrazine might be headed in the same direction. Last week, the EWG at a press conference said atrazine is contaminating tap water and giving babies cancer.

"There’s no safe dose of atrazine for babies," the EWG said in demanding an immediate ban on the weed killer.

Environmentalists usually attack chemicals not on the basis of actual or even perceived hazards, but on how useful they are. Atrazine fits the bill.

It has been used 40 years here, on two-thirds of our corn, 60% of sorghum and 90% of sugar cane. More than 80 other countries also use it.

Four years ago, the EPA began an ongoing special review of the triazine herbicide family, focusing on atrazine. Since then, 100 new scientific studies and more than 80,000 public comments have been submitted to the agency. Faced with an overwhelming wall of scientific evidence, the EPA has (so far) refused to cave in to environmentalist demands for a ban.

All this new material the EWG ignores. Instead its latest "report" focuses on cancer studies of a single species of rat.

The EWG’s report fails to note that last year the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, completed its atrazine reassessment. It reversed its position that atrazine was a potential human carcinogen, concluding that the mammary tumor formation in the rats isn’t relevant to humans.

Atrazine, said IARC, is "not classifiable as to carcinogenicity to humans," placing it in the same cancer risk category as tea and talc.

A (very) few of the reporters with me at the EWG press conference were skeptical enough to ask about evidence in the most important animal, homo sapiens. They were given information that was false, grossly misleading, or had absolutely nothing to do with atrazine.

Thus, EWG President Ken Cook claimed there’s evidence that childhood cancer was increasing. Were this true, it could be from a million factors other than atrazine exposure. But it’s not.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there’s no increase in overall childhood cancer rates, while that in adults is actually falling. Childhood cancer in Canada, a country that uses atrazine, is going down.

But "studies have found increased cancer risks for farmers," claimed EWG senior analyst Jane Houlihan. Again, how does atrazine become the villain when farmers are exposed to so many things at higher levels than nonfarmers? But even the underlying claim is wrong.

Studies repeatedly show that fewer farmers have cancer, many are healthier and live longer than non-farmers. The largest and most recent study to date, published last year in the Annals of Epidemiology, combined 37 studies and found yet again that farmers have lower overall rates of cancer. Only lip cancer was excessive, probably from sun exposure.

Bizarrely, Houlihan added: "Cancers that only occur in adults can be found in infants." Yikes, lady; if they’re in infants, then they’re not only found in adults. If she means "formerly only found in adults," how does that implicate a chemical used now for four decades? And so the press conference went. The written report hardly made more sense.

Naturally, the EWG says there are alternatives to atrazine. But Jere White, executive director of the Kansas Corn Growers Association, stated the obvious in telling me, "If there were other products that were safer and more cost-effective, we’d use them."

White says it’s ironic that environmentalists also oppose biotech crops that reduce the need for herbicides and other types of pesticides, on the simple grounds that they’re biotech.

"We (farmers) have trouble figuring out what the EWG supports other than the lack of a safe, abundant food supply," says White.

But the EPA will let science prevail, right? Sure, and the tooth fairy really does exist.

Read a longer version of this article.


Read Michael Fumento’s additional work on pesticides.