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Is Weed Killer in Drinking Water Dangerous? Govt. Is Letting the Chemical Industry Come Up with the Answer

EPA officials claim chemical industry's own evidence is 'scientifically more robust' than independent research.

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While the critiqued study is not on the EPA’s list, several other studies by Solomon are.

Wendy Wagner, an expert in environmental policy at the University of Texas law school, said that the criticism of the Canadian study demonstrates a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “the funding effect.”

“It is next to impossible to squeeze all of the discretion out of a researcher, and when he has a strong incentive to find a particular result, the result can be unreliable and badly biased research,” said Wagner, an authority on the influence of politics and special interests on science. “There is compelling evidence that bias still pervades sponsored pesticide research – research that presumably is done in accord with EPA’s guidelines.”

Meanwhile, some independently funded academic research published in major scientific journals is missing from the list of papers the EPA is using to make its decisions on atrazine. Absent are studies published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Environmental Health Perspectives, and Nature. Many works by independent academic scientists such as Tyrone Hayes and Rohr – who have demonstrated a range of potential reproductive and hormonal effects of the chemical – are not on the list.

Some peer-reviewed studies from prestigious journals fail to meet the agency’s standards, said EPA analyst Jordan, citing as an example work by scientists such as Hayes, who recently found that low doses of atrazine could turn male frogs into female frogs.

Jordan explained that the agency couldn’t rely on Hayes’ and the other scientists’ research in part because the government lacked protocols for testing chemicals on frogs. So the EPA developed those guidelines and asked Syngenta to study the issue. The company’s researchers reported that they were unable to replicate Hayes’ findings. Jordan said the Syngenta study “superceded” Hayes’ and the other scientists’ studies. The EPA, on its Website, currently states that atrazine causes no such adverse effects on frogs and that “no additional testing is warranted” to address the issue.

Environmental groups have in the past criticized the EPA for allowing chemical companies to wield disproportionate influence over regulatory decisions. While evaluating the safety of atrazine in 2003, the EPA allowed representatives from Syngenta to participate in closed-door negotiations with the agency, according to documents obtained by the NRDC in 2004.

Missing Evidence

Dale Kemery, an EPA spokesman, defended the practice of omitting some studies. The agency’s safety “review may not include every study that has been conducted, since some may not meet the standards that are appropriate for a regulatory setting or they may not be on target for the issues to be assessed.”

The EPA considers industry-sponsored studies “scientifically more robust than are the studies generated by people in academia,” said Jordan, the agency's senior policy analyst. “That’s generally because companies spend more money on their studies and can attend to details that are potentially important that people in academia just can’t afford to do.”

Jordan added that agency oversight of the thousands of unpublished studies on the list is just as rigorous as a peer-review by scientists prior to publication in a scientific journal. “I know that people might not agree with this proposition, but I believe that the scientists at EPA constitute a peer-review,” he said. “Our scientists go over the studies with a fine tooth comb.”

EPA officials said they were not able to provide a list of all omitted research.

A spokeswoman for CropLife America, the Washington D.C.-based trade association that represents pesticide and herbicide manufacturers, said EPA oversight is thorough, regardless of whether studies have appeared in peer-reviewed journals.

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