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Study reveals the 'safest' pesticide, atrazine, may be deadly

By Betty Kowall     Mar 18, 2010 in Environment
A pesticide regarded as one of the most closely studied and safest, atrazine, is used on corn crops throughout the world. Recent research indicates that it can 'chemically castrate' frogs and may have the potential to have the same impact on humans.
Tyrone B. Hayes, a researcher in California, recently announced that his experiments have revealed that atrazine can severely disrupt the sexing, sexuality and reproduction of frogs. Owen Roberts teaches agricultural communications at the University of Guelph and publishes a regular column on agricultural matters in the Guelph Mercury. Roberts recently took note of Hayes' research and his finding "that exposure either made male frogs ho-hum about sex, [or] turned them into girls whose subsequent offspring were all male."
On March 1, 2010, University of California, Berkeley issued a media release outlining the findings of Hayes and his team of researchers. The release began with an ominous statement: "Atrazine, one of the world's most widely used pesticides, wreaks havoc with the sex lives of adult male frogs, emasculating three-quarters of them and turning one in 10 into females." On that date the study was released "online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a major peer-reviewed U.S. journal."
According to Professor Hayes his findings are unequivocal and, in the long run, devastating to affected frog populations:
These male frogs are missing testosterone and all the things that testosterone controls, including sperm. So their fertility is as low as 10 percent in some cases, and that is only if we isolate those animals and pair them with females. In an environment where they are competing with unexposed animals, they have zero chance of reproducing.
These kinds of problems, like sex-reversing animals or skewing sex ratios, are much more dangerous than any chemical that would kill off a population of frogs.... In exposed populations, it looks like there are frogs breeding but, in fact, the population is being very slowly degraded by the introduction of these altered animals.
How widely it is used is shocking. More than "80 million pounds of the herbicide atrazine are applied annually in the United States on corn and sorghum... [and it is] the most common pesticide contaminant of ground and surface water" according to the UC Berkeley media release.
According to Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), "atrazine was first introduced in Canada in 1960 and was widely used for a number of years. Because of environmental concerns, its use is now half of that of 1983." That said, it is still widely used on corn and sorghum in Canada. Atrazine is banned in the European Union.
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