“Atrazine isn’t killing the frogs,” Hayes explains. “But if they’re reproductively impaired, that’s killing the population.” (via mj)
- Hayes postulates that atrazine affects gender by activating a gene that produces an enzyme called aromatase, which converts androgens—male sex hormones—to estrogens. In his talks, he makes sure to point out that estrogen is the same in frogs and humans. Just like frogs, we begin our development steeped in an aqueous environment: amniotic fluid. The chemical that so powerfully alters the gonads of a frog may be having an effect on us, too.
- atrazine’s unintended effects are documented in dozens of peer-reviewed studies. Last year, Jason Rohr and Krista McCoy from the University of South Florida published a meta-analysis of research involving amphibians and fish and found consistent results indicating that the herbicide affects the reproductive and immune systems. This past year, Hayes gathered 21 coauthors for a paper in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology showing that atrazine disrupts normal hormonal function, with demasculinizing effects on male gonads in reptiles, fish, amphibians, and mammals. He and 40 coauthors from 13 countries will soon publish a literature review that reaches similar conclusions. “I’ll have every scientist, with a few exceptions, who has worked on atrazine saying, ‘We’re together,’” he promises.
- Perhaps if SYNGENTA had simply questioned Hayes’ research in academic journals, things might have stayed focused on questions of sample sizes, lab conditions, and so on. But the company began sending staff to Hayes’ research talks in the United States and abroad, where he says they sometimes passed out materials disparaging his methods and accusing him of fabricating results or refusing to share data. “A Syngenta representative does try to attend events where Dr. Hayes is speaking,” Syngenta’s spokeswoman confirmed.
- Over time, these tense interactions escalated into the kind of verbal jostling you’d expect in a high school hallway. Syngenta officials, according to Hayes, have made derogatory remarks about his appearance, his speaking style, and even his sexual proclivities, which sounds implausible until you consider that Syngenta’s PR firm, Jayne Thompson & Associates, once proposed a covert media campaign to discredit the court system in an Illinois county where judges are presiding over an atrazine lawsuit.
- tyrone b hayes is hard as hell
battle anybody, i don’t care who you tell
you object! you will fail!
mercy for the weak is not for sale
- At one conference in 2005, he contends, Syngenta staff scientist Tim Pastoor accused him of “cherry-picking data” and asked if he cherry-picked his dates as well. Hayes responded in an email: “don’t worry…daddy has no intentions of picking your cherry.” At another meeting, Pastoor asserted that atrazine was a vital tool for US farmers. Hayes emailed him to ask, “How long have YOU been a ‘vital tool’?” adding, “I’ve got your vital tool right here.”
- 18 months since the email uproar, and Hayes has concluded that it has helped him more than it hurt. “Thanks to their advertising,” he gloats, “I’m giving 129 talks in the next year.” It has also brought his work to new audiences via pop-culture blogs. “Now I’ve got minorities who would never have had access to this information,” he says. And that’s important because minorities are most at risk of exposure; half of America’s farmworkers are Hispanic, according to the USDA. “They have levels of atrazine in their urine that are 24,000 times what we use in our laboratory,” Hayes adds.
- In 2009, a New York Times investigation found that 33 million Americans are exposed to atrazine through drinking water. EPA data from 2010 shows contamination exceeding the federal limit in 9 out of 10 states monitoring it—several Midwestern water districts reported between 9 and 18 times the limit. (Atrazine’s tendency to contaminate water supplies is one reason the European Union voted to ban it in 2003.)
- The EPA has claimed these spikes are not a health hazard. Yet epidemiological studies have found links between prenatal atrazine exposure and birth defects, premature birth, and low birth weight—even at extremely low concentrations. As Hayes explains, “0.1 ppb is not a low dose at all. Estrogen is active at levels that are 100 to 1,000 times lower than that. So in terms of an endocrine disruptor, that’s a high dose.”
- The EPA is weighing this argument as it reconsiders whether to ban or restrict atrazine. In July, its advisory panel, citing “strong” epidemiological evidence, criticized the agency forunderstating the chemical’s carcinogenic potential. But with the EPA’s review of the science now headed into its fourth year, Hayes doesn’t expect much in the way of decisive action. Back in 2005, the Natural Resources Defense Council obtained documents revealing that agency officials met privately with Syngenta more than 40 times while evaluating atrazine’s toxicity. The Huffington Post Investigative Fund reported that fewer than 20 percent of the papers the EPA relied upon in its past decision-making were peer-reviewed, while at least half were conducted by scientists with a financial stake in the product.
- Hayes is working on several new papers, including one he contends will be his most disturbing yet. It will show that male frogs exposed to atrazine early in life have feminized brains and tend to assume the bottom position when copulating, even when placed in a tank with females. While these frogs lack female sex organs, Hayes explains, their hormonal profile looks female, and “they have an identity that says female.”
Well, whaddya know, the industrialized world has reduced sperm counts and everyone is using atrazine: All told, about 80 million pounds of it are applied each year, making it the most widely used herbicide after glyphosate, a.k.a. Roundup.