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Common Herbicide Linked to Cancer and Hormone Disruption

Common Herbicide Linked to Cancer and Hormone Disruption

Pesticide Action Network

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reconsiders the science on atrazine, new findings highlight the link between low-level exposure to the nation’s most widely used herbicide and adverse human health effects, including cancer and altered hormones. At the same time, the chemical’s manufacturer, Syngenta, continues to influence scientific analysis of the chemical, downplaying evidence showing that atrazine is harmful.

“Syngenta has misrepresented and obscured the science, leading federal officials and the scientific community astray as we look to understand the full scope of the atrazine problem,” said Dr. Margaret Reeves, Ph.D., senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network. “EPA’s decision-making on atrazine should follow the science. That’s the best way to ensure farmers, farmworkers and rural communities are protected.”

Atrazine is found more often than any other pesticide in groundwater—almost 95 percent of U.S. groundwater contains the chemical. The weed killer is one of the most widely used pesticides in the U.S.—and the world. More than 76 million pounds are used in the U.S. each year, mostly on Midwestern corn fields.

The EPA closes another public comment period on atrazine Nov. 14, even as increasing evidence comes to light about the dangers the chemical poses to human health. Earlier findings already document birth defects, delayed puberty and infertility. These new findings suggest a greater relationship between atrazine exposure, increased rates of cancer and hormonal disruption in women.

In one new study published in Environmental Science, researchers suggest that women in agricultural communities in Illinios, the epicenter of nation’s corn belt where atrazine is used extensively, tend to have more irregular menstrual cycles than women living in rural communities where atrazine is sparingly used. The women in the study consumed atrazine in their water at levels well below the federal legal limit. In fact, the maximum level of atrazine observed in the study was less than one-third the legal maximum.

EPA also just released minutes from the July meeting of its independent scientific advisory panel, which is concluding an 18-month review of atrazine’s health and environmental effects. The panel forcefully called into question EPA’s conclusion that atrazine is “not likely to be a human carcinogen.” The scientists criticized the agency for grouping all types of cancers together, and called on EPA “to make conclusions for individual cancers." They point to "suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential" for ovarian cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, hairy-cell leukemia and thyroid cancer.

Earlier Nov. 14, Pesticide Action Network submitted more than 5,000 petition signatures to EPA urging the agency to “discount and disclose the corporate backing of atrazine.” The petition calls for greater transparency in EPA evaluation of the chemical, as the agency held 50 closed-door meetings with Syngenta prior to the last review of the chemical. But the company’s influence doesn’t stop at meetings.

Dr. Jason Rohr, a scientist from University of South Florida, took a look at industry-funded reviews of the effects of atrazine on fish and frogs, indicators of impacts on human health, and he found:

[The] industry-funded review misrepresented more than 50 studies and included 122 inaccurate and 22 misleading statements. Of these inaccurate and misleading statements, 96.5 percent seem to benefit the makers of atrazine in that they support the safety of the chemical.

Dr. Rohr’s analysis underscores what members of the Midwest agricultural community have been saying all along. “As farmers on the front line of chemical exposure we need EPA to make science-based decisions in the interest of our health, our family’s health and the health of our community,” said Paul Sobocinski, a southwest Minnesota crop and livestock farmer and Land Stewardship Project member. “Unfortunately, EPA has a track record of allowing agrichemical companies like Syngenta to hijack the process with bad science. I discontinued use of atrazine on my corn crop a number of years ago because of health and environmental concerns.”

Syngenta’s tactics to protect atrazine are nothing new. The company has intimidated scientists, pressured regulators and paid economists to manufacturer faulty studies in efforts to keep their flagship product on the market.

Find a copy of the report The Syngenta Corporation & Atrazine: The Cost to the Land, People & Democracy by Land Stewardship Project and Pesticide Action Network by clicking here.

For more information, click here.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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