Two years after Syngenta paid the midwest $105 million in a class-action settlement, unsealed court documents show how the Swiss corporation used smear campaigns, infiltrated the EPA, and hired private investigators, all in hopes of keeping their billion-dollar herbicide on the U.S. market.
Atrazine, which is banned in the European Union, is mostly used on corn in the midwestern states to control the growth of broadleaf and grassy weeds. Over 80 million pounds of the chemical is used every year, making it one of the most widely used agricultural products in the United States.
Controversy erupted back in 1997 when Tyrone Hayes, an Integrative Biology professor at UC Berkeley, was hired by Syngenta to investigate the potential effects of Atrazine. When Syngenta realized that Hayes was finding significant problems with their herbicide, specifically reproductive issues and birth defects in amphibians, they tried to discredit him and his research methods. Some say that Syngenta even went as far as stalking Hayes to conferences and speeches across the country, where he would present his research.
At the time, Atrazine was under investigation by the EPA and Hayes was on the Scientific Advisory Panel, a group of elites that give independent scientific advice on the health and safety issues of pesticides to the EPA.
Other scientists have found even more alarming results. Atrazine has been linked to prostate cancer, and hormonal, cardiovascular, lung and kidney problems in humans.
Despite the scholarly research, Syngenta’s corruption, and Hayes’ movement to educate the public, the EPA has continued to allow the presence of Atrazine in the water as long as it remains under a certain concentration rate deemed to be “safe”. The EPA’s website states:
“If a watershed shows levels of atrazine above this level of concern in any two years of monitoring, atrazine registrants must initiate watershed-based management activities in concert with state or local watershed programs to reduce atrazine exposure.”
So if a company continues to let its hazardous pesticide leak into watersheds and exceed the level of allowable concentration…their punishment is to reduce the level.
How scary, for a corporation that is ranked among the Forbes top 500 most profitable operations on the planet.
They are not threatened by the weak EPA mandates and have continued to prove exactly that. Half a dozen states were involved in the class-action case mentioned earlier and over 1,000 communities have been affected by Syngenta’s wrecklessness. The towns have spent taxpayer money for years in order to reduce or eliminate the presence of Atrazine in the water supply. Why should American citizens have to foot the bill?
Multiple sites across the midwest continue to be areas of high-concern, such as the Big Blue River in Nebraska, where Atrazine concentrations exceeded the EPA issued limit five out of six times. This seems to be the new norm.
After their slap-on-the-wrist settlement loss, Syngenta continues to operate in a destructive manner today. When will the government stop corporations from profiting at the expense of global health and safety?
Chandler is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.