The existence of toxic chemicals in our environment and especially in our food must be of grave concern to all. However, the fourth article of the Chemical Reality series is going to focus on a toxic substance that affects men in particular. Its name is Atrazine. It is produced by Big Chem, more especifically, Syngenta.
If you have never heard about atrazine and how it degrades human health and the environment, it is time to pay attention, because this chemical is as bad as Bisphenol A and Dioxins, the two compounds I wrote about in the two previous articles.
Atrazine is such a poisonous chemical that its producer has paid $105 million to settle one single lawsuit that alleged the toxicity of atrazine endangered the environment by contaminating human water supplies. The money paid by Syngenta was used to treat at 1000 contaminated water systems polluted by atrazine.
Let’s understand what exactly atrazine is and how this chemical is indeed poisoning us all.
Atrazine is a herbicide used to fight the growth of broadleaf weeds in crops. It is used in many if not all crops that are produced in large amounts ( as corn, soy, sugarcane and others) in order to increase yields such It is also used on grass such as home lawns, stadiums and golf courses. Atrazine’s most significant threat concerns its ability to contaminate ground water as it filters through the soil into subterranean water reserves. But a lot of it also remains on the soil, grass and crops we use as food. Even after sliding down into the soil, atrazine residue remains on the grass and plants, which are later eaten by gracing animals.
The levels of atrazine in the environment have increased everywhere but in those places that have banned the use of the pesticide/herbicide. As you may have already guessed, the United States is the country with the heaviest use of atrazine and Europe is the place where the chemical has been widely prohibited due to its toxicity.
Since defending the indefensible is expensive, Syngenta and other chemical companies do not like it when someone discovers that the chemicals they produce are harmful, because that means they would need to pull it out of the market, which in turn causes the companies to lose millions of dollars in profits. The modus operandi of companies like Syngenta is to persecute whistleblowers to make them shut up. That is the case of Tyrone Hayes, a scientist who spent fifteen years studying atrazine. The result of his research demonstrated that this herbicide is indeed a harmful, toxic chemical.
After working for Syngenta in the study of atrazine, Hayes left his job and decided to work independently and that is when he began to be harassed by Syngenta. As reported by The New Yorker, “Syngenta representatives were following him to conferences around the world. He worried that the company was orchestrating a campaign to destroy his reputation.” Hayes’ work prompted 23 American cities to sue Syngenta for hiding atrazine’s threat to ground water reserves. After the lawsuit was settled by Syngenta, hundreds of memos, notes, and e-mails from the company were made public only to confirm what Hayes had discovered throughout most of his career. “Tyrone’s work gave us the scientific basis for the lawsuit,” said Stephen Tillery, the attorney who took on Syngenta in court.
Why is Atrazine so dangerous?
The reason why Syngenta persecutes people like Hayes, who only want to demonstrate the danger that this chemical poses to humans, animals and plants is atrazine’s pervasiveness. As the two previous chemicals do, atrazine is an endocrine disruptor, which means it has the capacity to negatively affect the hormonal balance of humans and animals. Because water is the main source of life on this planet, it is no surprise that atrazine’s toxicity is of such a concern to many people. Let’s remember that the human body is said to be 65% water.
Back in 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States, said that the risks associated with atrazine residues in water “posed a reasonable certainty of no harm”. Later in 2007 the EPA said that atrazine did not negatively affect sexual development in amphibians and that it was not necessary to conduct further testing. So why all the noise about atrazine? Mostly because it is the second most widely used herbicide after Monsanto’s glyphosate and also because despite the EPA’s assurances that this chemicals is safe, multiple studies have found that the opposite is true.
The consequences of atrazine in humans and animals are related to the endocrine system where it causes hormonal imbalance. Its pervasiveness relies on the fact that atrazine remains on soil for months, which allows it to get to underground water reservoirs. For this reason, atrazine was banned in Europe in 2004.
As in the case of BPA and dioxins, atrazine causes damage on unborn children during pregnancy, disturbs natural and normal sexual development, affects pubertal development and others.
The dangers of atrazine are extended to animals and plants, where similar results have been observed. Frogs and fish are some of the most harmed species. Frogs often suffer from demasculinization and even low doses of atrazine cause frogs to turn into hermaphrodites. According to results obtained by Tyrone Hayes, atrazine lowers decreases testosterone to levels that are inferior to those found in female frogs. The only studies that have not found any threat from the use of atrazine, have been those financed by Syngenta and conducted by government agencies.
In his study Demasculinization and Feminization of Male Gonads by Atrazine: Consistent Effects Across Vertebrate Classes, Tyrone Hayes explains that:
How did Hayes come up with this conclusion?
“Plausible, coherent mechanisms are available to explain gonadal demasculinization and feminization. Atrazine exposure significantly reduces synthesis, secretion and circulating levels of androgens across vertebrate classes including fish [38,59], amphibians [26,39], reptiles , and mammals [24,60] with lesser effects in birds . Androgen production is critical for germ cell differentiation, development and maturation. Thus, limiting androgen production and availability provides a plausible mechanism to explain the demasculinization of gonads in exposed males.”
A report published on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, explains that atrazine induces castration in male African clawed frogs. “atrazine is the most commonly detected pesticide contaminant of ground, surface, and drinking water. Atrazine is also a potent endocrine disruptor that is active at low, ecologically relevant concentrations.” According to PNAS, previous studies show that when exposed to atrazine, males were chemically castrated and completely feminized as adults.
In animal studies, at least 10% of subjects developed functional females organs, mated with males to later produce viable eggs. Apparently, atrazine causes males to suffer from “depressed testosterone”, demasculinized/feminized laryngeal development, suppressed mating behavior, reduced spermatogenesis, and decreased fertility. But the results of studies done with atrazine are not only limited to amphibians. The same results seen in them were observed in other vertebrate classes. If atrazine is likely to cause a decline in amphibian population worldwide, due to its ability to disrupt endocrine function, it is expected to have the same result in other forms of life, including humans.
The heavy use of atrazine and other poisonous chemicals in agriculture is one good reason to stop consuming processed industrialized products. An Agugust 2010 study whose details are published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, “found that the incidence of prostate inflammation went from 48 percent in the control group to 81 percent in the male offspring who were exposed to a mixture of atrazine and its breakdown products prenatally.” The study was led by Suzanne Fenton, Ph.D., and Jason Stanko, Ph.D., from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), which is part of the National Institutes of Health.
“We didn’t expect to see these kinds of effects at such low levels,” Fenton said. “We hope that this information will be useful to the EPA as it completes its risk assessment of atrazine,” said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS and National Toxicology Program.
So let’s review. When it comes to atrazine’s negative effects on reproduction, studies have shown that this chemical “reduces the ability to reproduce successfully. Regarding atrazine’s mutagenicity, studies have found that there is a significant increase in the percentage of chromosomal damage in the blood cells of workers in an atrazine production plant. On carcinogenicity, in human evaluations, studies found a higher incidence of breast cancer and ovarian cancers and that the risk of breast cancer was higher in places with “medium and high levels of triazine exposure” than it was at low exposures. According to the Pesticide Action Network of the United Kingdom, the general conclusion on atrazine, is that “it is a pesticide of major concern for a number of reasons including possible negative health effects, effects on aquatic organisms, levels in drinking water and the development of resistance. Whilst it is becoming less widely used, the effects of its long-term persistence may still cause health and environmental problems in the future.”
As I’ve said in the previous three articles, it is not a bad idea to act in a safe, proactive way. As explained in previous cases, the best way to avoid getting poisoned by atrazine or any other chemical is to eliminate processed foods from our diets. A second step is to conduct a detoxification of the body. A third step is to change our diets to eat food that we can prove has been cultivated without any kind of chemicals and on a soil that has never been sprayed with pesticides, herbicides or that have been planted with genetically engineered organisms.
Men, you have been warned.