Why Is This Hormone-Disrupting Pesticide Banned in Europe But Widely Used in the U.S.?
The European Union just banned two agricultural weed killers linked to infertility, reproductive problems and fetal development—the first-ever EU ban on endocrine-disrupting pesticides. That’s good news for Europeans. But as in Europe, many endocrine-disrupting weed killers remain widely used on American crops and from farm fields make their way into drinking water and food.
One of the most widely used and most troublesome endocrine-disrupting pesticides in the U.S. is atrazine. Manufactured by agro-chemical giant Syngenta, atrazine is sprayed mostly on Midwest corn fields and is consistently one of the most detected crop chemicals in drinking water.
Tests by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have repeatedly found atrazine in Midwestern drinking water sources that exceed levels of concern for infants and children. In 2009, the New York Times reported that an estimated 33 million Americans have been exposed to atrazine through their taps.
The hormone-disrupting qualities of atrazine have been well-documented, most notably by Tyrone Hayes, a professor of biology at the University of California at Berkeley. His extensive research has shown the chemical altered the reproductive systems in frogs.
In 2010, Hayes and a team of researchers exposed 40 male tadpoles to water with atrazine at 2.5 parts per billion—well within the U.S. EPA’s established drinking water standards. Roughly one-tenth of the frogs that grew in the atrazine-tainted water become “functionally female,” Hayes reported.
Atrazine is banned in Europe. But it is the second most-used herbicide in U.S. agriculture, with more than 60 million pounds sprayed on crops each year, behind only Monsanto’s glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup.
Some farmers are reducing the need for herbicides like atrazine by switching to organic production methods or adopting new weed management strategies. But the federal government doesn’t invest enough in supporting such innovative strategies.
Most federal farm spending supports and encourages large-scale industrial farming, dependent on chemical pesticides and fertilizers that pollute streams, rivers and lakes. Of the meager support for more sustainable farming, even less is dedicated to practices that reduce the need for pesticides. As a result, most farmers seeking financial help to reduce chemical use are turned away.
The U.S. EPA is currently reviewing the regulations on atrazine and should release its assessment in the next year. To protect public health and ensure clean drinking water, the agency should recognize the harm caused by atrazine and restrict its use.
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Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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