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Atrazine still sits in bull’s eye (Editorial)

Atrazine, perhaps the most important crop protection chemical in the arsenal, is in the sights of the Environmental Protection agency again.
Within days after Arazine won another vote of confidence in a lawsuit brought against Syngenta, in connection with the herbicide which it manufactures, the EPA announced that it was scheduled to launch a three-day public hearing on June 12 on appeals to ban the herbicide.
The ban is being sought by enviromental groups including the Save The Frogs, the Center for Biological Diversity and Natural Resources Defense Council.
The EPA apparently can’t make up its mind. It re-registered atrazine in 2006 after 6,000 studies were conducted to determine its safety.
The lawsuit against Syngenta was settled and it cost the Swiss company some money, but the case was resolved with the agreement that atrazine is safe. According to the settlement, the scientific evidence continues to make it clear that no one ever has or ever could be exposed to enough atrazine in water to affect their health when the product is used according to its label. The plaintiffs acknowledge that they had not commissioned and were not aware of any new scientific studies relating to the safety of atrazine.
Scientists generally agree that although it has been more than 50 years since the herbicide was first introduced, the continuing importance of atrazine, along with simazine and propazine, to U.S. agriculture and global food supplies cannot be overstated.
In addition to managing weeds, atrazine and its sister triazines are critical to support conservation tillage practices that improve soil conservation in row crop production.
From his perch as retired Extension weed control specialist at the University of Maryland, Dr. Ron Ritter continues to warn against the possible loss, either though federal ban or state legislation, of “a very valuable, environmentally-sound and inexpensive product.”
Citing the basic flaws of any effort to ban atrazine, Ritter noted EPA’s proper re-registration of the herbicide and that seven national and international regulatory agencies have agreed that atrazine, “does not cause cancer, give frogs intersex organs, or create birth defects.”
Ritter warned too that a ban would be costly. With farmers looking at a loss of somewhere between $26 to $58 per acre which translates to $12 million to $29 million for Maryland farmers. Despite the settlement, the ag industry continues to fret the possibility of future unmerited class action lawsuits against contemporary farm practices. It’s an area often tilled by law firms.
For example, Syngenta reports that the cost of the settlement to the company was $105 million. However, according to local news reports, lawyers for the plaintiffs were expected to receive $35 million of the settlement.