The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The Environmental “Protection” Agency:
Who does it protect?

Jun 17, 2002

For ten years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been studying the most widely used pesticide in the country – atrazine. In August, the EPA is due to publish new rules for its use.

More than 75 million pounds of this pesticide are spread to control weeds each year, especially on corn crops in the Midwest and on lawns in the South. Studies have for decades linked its use to an increase in cancers. Short term side effects have included heart congestion, muscle spasms and damage to adrenal glands. Long term exposure to atrazine has been shown to cause cardiovascular damage, retinal and muscle degeneration, as well as cancer.

For more than a decade, the EPA had listed atrazine as a cancer causing chemical. But in 2000, the EPA pulled it off the list. Had the properties of this dangerous pesticide changed? Did the EPA’s own scientists doubt it was a carcinogen? Neither was the case.

Instead, Syngenta – the largest agri-business in the world and the maker of atrazine – began pressuring policy-makers, pretending to challenge the EPA’s scientific studies. Syngenta claimed that studies showing atrazine producing cancerous tumors in rats didn’t apply to humans. Syngenta even declared that nothing was proved by the fact that workers producing atrazine at its plants had higher than normal cancer rates.

The tobacco industry pulled out the same arguments for decades after tobacco was shown to be a carcinogen. The industry making asbestos-filled products argued the same, while thousands and thousands of workers suffered more and more difficulty breathing and often death.

When it comes to protecting their profits, whatever their products, corporations are always ready to dispute scientific results. If we waited for the kind of “proof” the corporations want, every human in contact with a carcinogenic product would already be dead.

So Syngenta is following a long corporate tradition in challenging results they don’t like. The most recently released study of atrazine showed that frogs fed it suffered growth deformities: they grew both testes and ovaries. The study was done by a scientist who used to work for Syngenta but had left!

Not only do environmental groups want to force the EPA to stop dragging its bureaucratic feet, its own scientists have done similar studies to show the dangers of heavy use of atrazine.

But the heads of the EPA, under the current and former administrations, are not just satisfied to be the Excuse Perfection Agency. Their goal is to become the Profit Protection Agency.