Herbicide Chemical in Drinking Water Could Pose Much Greater Danger to Health Than Previously Thought
March 30th, 2011
By: David Gutierrez
Contamination of drinking water by a common herbicide poses a greater health threat than previously believed, according to a report issued by the nonprofit environmental organization Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors average yearly levels of the popular herbicide atrazine in drinking water supplies, based on four tests per year. But the NRDC notes that levels of the toxin in drinking water regularly spike after heavy rains or during the spring when it is being widely applied, and that the four yearly testings may miss these events. The organization’s researchers found several such spikes in its own testing of water supplies in towns in agricultural regions of the South and Midwest.
“Our biggest concern is early-life-stage development,” said Jennifer Sass of the NRDC. “If there’s a disruption during that time, it becomes hard-wired into the system. These endocrine disrupters act in the body at extremely low levels. These spikes matter.”
Because atrazine is compatible with no-till farming, it is popular among farmers seeking to acquire a “green” label by reducing their carbon footprint. It is known to disrupt the hormonal system, and may cause cancers and menstrual problems in adults. It is considered especially dangerous to the developing reproductive systems of fetuses and children. The chemical has been shown to kill aquatic microorganisms and suppress the immune systems of larger animals, and it can cause limb or reproductive deformities in amphibians at levels as low as 0.1 parts per billion.
The EPA has set a threshold of 3 billion parts per billion for permissible atrazine levels, which the NRDC says would be too high even without periodic spikes. The NRDC analysis of 139 different municipal water systems found that 54 of them had a one-time spike higher than 3 parts per billion at some point in 2003 or 2004.
Home or municipal carbon filters can remove atrazine from water, but many municipal treatment plants do not use such procedures.
October 13th, 2010
By: Ethan A. Huff
The New York Times recently published a story on a new report that claims to have discovered one of the primary causes of colony collapse disorder (CCD), a condition in which entire colonies of bees mysteriously die. But the report, which pins a fungus and virus combination as the culprit, was headed by a researcher with financial ties to Bayer Crop Science, the creator of pesticide products that are also linked to CCD.
Why is this important? For starters, Bayer is responsible for the production of neonicotinoid crop pesticides that have been increasingly linked to causing CCD. But ever since the new report broke headlines, the mainstream media has shifted its focus from things like pesticides to the supposed fungus/virus, and some are calling foul.
According to a recent CNN Money report, Bayer gave a sizable research grant to Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk, lead author of the new study that conveniently steers clear of any mention of pesticides as a possible culprit. And some believe that the move was nothing more than a ploy to use junk science to protect Bayer from further scrutiny over its pesticides.
Prior to receiving grant money, Bromenshenk had planned to testify against Bayer
Interestingly, Bromenshenk had been after Bayer’s pesticides prior to receiving the grant money, and had even agreed to be a key witness in a class-action lawsuit by a group of North Dakota Beekeepers against Bayer. The plaintiffs all believed strongly that Bayer’s pesticides were largely responsible for the mass die-off of their bees, and Bromenshenk seemed to be in agreement as well. But shortly after receiving the research grant from Bayer, Dr. Bromenshenk mysteriously switched sides and began to pursue other research options instead.
Conducted in cahoots with Army scientists at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, the study focused entirely on the disease option and avoided any mention of pesticides. Bromenshenk insists that the grant played no role in his change of mind, or in the outcome of the study, but not everyone is convinced. After all, Bromenshenk also owns a company called Bee Alert Technology that is working on a hand-held acoustic scanner to detect bee ailments — a device that will sell really well if the cause of CCD is pinned on a contagious disease rather than on pesticides.
Numerous studies link pesticides, environmental toxins to CCD
Back in May, NaturalNews highlighted a study out of Washington State University (WSU) that evaluated pesticide levels in honeybee wax. The research team found that much wax contains “fairly high levels of pesticide residue” and that such residue “significantly reduced (bee) longevity”.
A study conducted prior to that one identified very high levels of two particular pesticides in honeybee wax, as well as lower levels of 70 others. Many researchers believe that such exposure results in bees developing immune-deficiency diseases that compromise their health and make them more susceptible to infection. This hypothesis would explain why bees are allegedly contracting and dying from the newly discovered fungus/virus.
Many other reports, including one released by the French agricultural ministry, have found that neonicotinoid pesticides kill bees even in very small doses. After roughly a third of the country’s bees died in 1999, France banned imidacloprid, a pesticide produced by Bayer. Italy has also banned certain types of neonicotinoids for similar reasons.
And according to Dr. Daniel Mayer, a retired bee expert from WSU who is testifying on behalf of the beekeepers in the class-action suit, it is obvious that pesticides are at the very least partially responsible for CCD. After visiting 17 different North Dakota bee farms that had experienced massive bee die-offs, he indicated that bees likely collect pesticides from plants and bring them back to their hives, where all the bees end up becoming exposed.
Bayer, of course, denies all allegations that its products are killing honeybees. But why did the company decide to fund research into alternative options for CCD? If the pesticides are safe, why go to all the trouble?
Bayer pesticide safety studies hidden from the public
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) back in 2008 because the agency refused to release the safety studies conducted by Bayer that allegedly proved pesticides to be safe for bees. The EPA had approved the pesticides under the assumption that exposure levels were too small to cause any harm, but that assumption was based on Bayer’s own studies, which contradict virtually every other study that has been conducted concerning the issue.
The EPA finally released the studies after much pressure, and the NRDC is currently reviewing them. But based on the multitude of independent studies already released, even very low doses of pesticides are enough to cause significant harm to bees, despite claims by Bayer to the contrary. The end result is that prolonged pesticide exposure weakens the immune system to the point that bees become unable to fend off disease.
August 30, 2010
by Jill Richardson
Over the past several months, your bathroom has become the site of a major controversy. In fact, the controversy has been heating up for a while (Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Safety Database dates back to 2004), but recently, stories of dangerous ingredients in common personal care products like soap, toothpaste and lipstick have become even more common in the media. They’re even the subject of a bill in Congress, The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010. The inadequate regulation and dubious safety of cosmetics spurred Annie Leonard, famous for making The Story of Stuff, to come out with a new video last month, The Story of Cosmetics.
Numerous chemicals that are legally used in personal care products are untested, inadequately tested, or even proven harmful, but few are as widely used and as unnecessary as the endocrine disrupting chemicals triclosan (an ingredient in 75 percent of liquid hand soaps) and triclocarban (most commonly found in deodorant bar soaps). Scientists have recently found a number of new reasons why these chemicals should not be used in consumer products. In late July, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) brought a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), calling on the FDA to ban triclosan and triclocarban from soaps and body washes.
Together, triclosan and triclocarban are widely used in antibacterial soaps, body washes, deodorants, lip glosses, dog shampoos, shave gels, and even toothpastes. They are found in brands as familiar as Colgate, Dial, Lever 2000, and Vaseline. Although they have been used for several decades for their antibacterial and antifungal properties, studies and even the FDA recognize that they are no more effective at preventing disease than regular soap and water. In other words, they serve two real purposes: allowing companies to market personal care products as “antibacterial,” and contaminating the waste stream (and, ultimately, the environment).
In 2009, the EPA tested 84 sewage sludge samples from around the U.S. and found triclocarban in every sample and triclosan in 79 samples. Research published in 2007 also showed that triclocarban appears more frequently and in higher concentrations downstream of wastewater treatment plants, compared to upstream. That implies that these chemicals are not just entering wastewater treatment plants — they are also exiting the plants in sewage sludge and effluent. Triclocarban is rather persistent and does not break down for over a decade. Triclosan, on the other hand, does break down — into dioxins. And, alarmingly, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published data in July showing that the level of triclosan in Americans increased, on average, by more than 40 percent in a two-year period (from 2003-’04 to 2005-’06).
So what are the effects of these chemicals we are putting into our environment and even into our own bodies? Setting aside the dioxins — a class of chemicals that are well-documented carcinogens — both triclosan and triclocarban appear to be endocrine disruptors. Scientists say that triclocarban appears unique in that it doesn’t show endocrine activity by itself and instead enhances the expression of other hormones, such as androgens (male hormones like testosterone), estrogens and cortisol. In animal studies, triclosan also affects male and female sex hormones. Additionally, it interferes with thyroid hormone.
Obviously, a major route of exposure to triclosan and triclocarban are through personal care products. Their use in soaps can result in absorption through the skin into the bloodstream, and those who use toothpastes with triclosan are putting the chemical directly into their mouths, where it can remain present in saliva for hours. Additionally, a study published last month found that soybean plants in soil contaminated with triclosan and triclocarban uptake both chemicals into their roots, leaves and beans. This implies that crops fertilized with sewage sludge or irrigated with effluent from wastewater treatment plants, both of which are often contaminated with these chemicals, would result in food contaminated with triclosan and triclocarban. (It should also be noted that, since sewage sludge is sold in composts and fertilizer for home gardeners, proof that plants uptake a harmful chemical should not be the standard used to determine that chemical’s safety in sewage sludge. Home gardeners and their children would be exposed to any chemical in sludge sold commercially as they garden or play in the soil.)
NRDC cites both the recent news from the CDC about the increase in triclosan found in the bodies of Americans (or, more specifically, in their urine) and the study finding that soybeans uptake triclosan and triclocarban into the edible portions of the plant in its press release announcing its lawsuit. NRDC’s senior scientist Dr. Sarah Janssen said, “With no proven benefit and many red flags raised for harmful health impacts, the use of these so-called anti-microbials is an unnecessary and stupid use of toxic chemicals.”
On its Web site, the FDA says that triclosan “is not currently known to be hazardous to humans,” also providing the caveat that “several scientific studies have come out since the last time FDA reviewed this ingredient that merit further review.” Of course, that is not the same as saying that triclosan is definitely safe. The FDA continues by raising the question of whether triclosan “contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics” and concluding that, while triclosan may provide some benefit in toothpaste by preventing gingivitis, there is no other evidence that it provides any other benefits to health. The FDA has no similar page on triclocarban.
Currently, both the FDA and the EPA are taking a fresh look at triclosan, at the urging of Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass. In April, Markey told the Washington Post, “The proliferation of triclosan in everyday consumer products is so enormous, it is literally in almost every type of product — most soaps, toothpaste, cosmetics, clothes and toys. It’s in our drinking water, it’s in our rivers and as a result, it’s in our bodies … I don’t think a lot of additional data has to be collected in order to make the simple decisions about children’s toys and soaps that people use. It clearly is something that creates a danger.”
Markey was also one of three members of Congress to introduce the Safe Cosmetics Act, along with Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, and Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc. The bill aims to phase out ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects and developmental harm that are currently used in cosmetics, improve labeling requirements for cosmetics, and to establish a list of cosmetic ingredients that are known to be safe. This would be an improvement to cosmetic safety in so many ways, since it’s currently voluntary for a manufacturer to ensure the products it sells don’t contain known carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors, and other harmful chemicals.
In fact, many chemicals used in cosmetics just aren’t tested for safety in the first place. The FDA leaves safety to the industry, which in turn sets voluntary standards for cosmetics companies and tests less than 20 percent of ingredients used in cosmetics for safety. Since 1938, the U.S. has banned only eight ingredients out of the 12,000 used in personal care products. In contrast, the E.U. bans over 1,300. That not only reinforces the fact that Americans are unnecessarily and legally exposed to harmful ingredients in their soaps, shampoos and lotions; it also shows that any company selling products in both the U.S. and Europe already knows how to produce its products free of the over 1,300 ingredients banned in the E.U. Surely it wouldn’t be unreasonable to ask them to uphold the same safety standard for their U.S. market.
Would adopting Europe’s standards or passing the Safe Cosmetics Act remove triclosan and triclocarban from our household products? Perhaps not. The list of chemicals banned in Europe includes heavy metals, phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and even pharmaceuticals. Some of these chemicals aren’t used in U.S. personal care products anyway. But some are. Take, for example, dibutyl phthalate. You can find that one in any number of Sally Hansen or Cover Girl nail polishes. However, the list of chemicals banned in Europe does not include triclosan or triclocarban. (Nor does it include other chemicals commonly used in personal care products that are potentially harmful, like sodium lauryl sulfate or parabens.) And recall that the FDA, pending its review of triclosan’s safety, continues to allow its use and warn of no human safety hazards (even as it recognizes that “animal studies have shown that triclosan alters hormone regulation.”
In other words, it seems that, while the passage of the Safe Cosmetics Act would improve the safety of personal care products in the U.S., it wouldn’t be a silver bullet. Consumer advocates would need to remain vigilant as the FDA formulates its lists of chemicals banned, restricted, and permitted in cosmetics. And, even if NRDC is successful in its lawsuit to ban triclosan and triclocarban, Americans will still be exposed to triclocarban, triclosan and their breakdown products (including dioxins) for years to come.
August 16, 2010
By: Cindy Jones-Shoeman
Many Americans buy bottled water across the United States every day; this practice stems from the belief that drinking more water is good for a person. Yes, water is truly the best thing a person could ever drink, but bottled water is not the best way to do it. In fact, drinking bottled water is a bad idea. There are several reasons why people should stop drinking bottled water now.
Bottled Water is Usually Just Tap Water
That’s right. Bottled water, most of the time, is simply tap water from whatever municipality the bottling company is located in. Sometimes it’s purified and filtered; sometimes it’s not.
Why would a person want to spend a dollar or two on water that comes straight out of the faucet? At the very least, when a person pours water out of his own tap, he usually knows what’s in his city’s water, and he can filter it before drinking it. But there are no labels on bottled water that report to consumers what is in the city water poured into a bottle.
Bottled Water Harms the Environment
Here’s a frightening fact: 2.5 million plastic bottles are thrown away every hour in the United States. Yes, 2.5 million an hour. Imagine how that amount contributes to swelling landfills as well as the ever-growing plastic vortex in the Pacific Ocean.
Drinking water in one’s kitchen from a cup produces little waste in regard to the environment. But if a person consumed all her daily water from bottles, imagine how quickly that would add up. Bottled water is bad for the planet.
Drinking Bottled Water Exposes Consumers to Harmful Chemical
No, that chemical doesn’t come from the water; it comes from the plastic. Many plastic bottles contain the chemical bisphenol A, also known as BPA, which can leach into the water in the bottle.
Why is this a problem? Studies indicate that BPA exposure is toxic and exposure can cause myriad health problems and can wreak havoc on hormone levels. The FDA is, in typical fashion, moving slowly on the issue, so it is up to consumers to keep themselves safe.
Buying Bottled Water Puts More Money into the Pockets of Big Business
Do people really want to hand over their primary drinking source to big business? It’s one thing when a company supplies a product and then tries to convince consumers they have a need for it; it’s another thing when they take a real need out of people’s hands.
According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Americans spend approximately 4 billion dollars a year on bottled water. That money goes into the pockets of the very companies that also try to hook people on soft drinks containing caffeine, sugar, and other potentially harmful additives.
But What About Healthful Bottled Water?
Forget “healthy” bottled water. It’s a fallacy. John Robbins reports that many of these so-called healthful bottled waters, ones that are marketed as containing vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements, are nothing more than “sugar-water.”
As with any product, a consumer would do best to read the labels of these kinds of products. When a water product contains sugar, how healthy can it be for a person? It’s not, no mattered how it’s hyped.
Bottled Water is Bad!
It doesn’t matter what companies claim; bottled water is a bad idea. People will be healthier and the environment will be better cared for if people don’t spend their money on bottled water.
August 25, 2009
Chicago Sun Times
By Kari Lydersen
Drinking water containing a common herbicide could pose a greater public health risk than previously thought because regular municipal monitoring doesn’t detect frequent spikes in the chemical’s levels, according to a report released Monday by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The report documented spikes in atrazine in the water supplies of Midwestern and Southern towns in agricultural areas, where the herbicide is applied to the vast majority of corn, sorghum and sugar cane fields.
Atrazine, an endocrine disrupter, can interfere with the body’s hormonal activity and the development of reproductive organs. The Environmental Protection Agency looks at annual average levels of the chemical in drinking-water systems, but the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says this misses spikes likely to occur after rain and springtime application of the herbicide.
“Our biggest concern is early-life-stage development,” said NRDC senior scientist Jennifer Sass. “If there’s a disruption during that time, it becomes hard-wired into the system. These endocrine disrupters act in the body at extremely low levels. These spikes matter.”
She said the chemical could also be linked to menstrual problems and endocrine-related cancers in adults.
Scientists with atrazine manufacturer Syngenta called the NRDC study alarmist and said the spikes fall within one- and 10-day limits that the EPA considers safe.
“Atrazine is one of the best studied, most thoroughly regulated molecules on the planet,” said Syngenta toxicologist Tim Pastoor. “Those momentary spikes are not going to be injurious to human health.”
Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, municipal water supplies are typically tested for chemicals, including atrazine, four times a year. The EPA considers an annual average atrazine level below 3 parts per billion as safe for human consumption. But biweekly data collected by the EPA from 139 municipal water systems found that atrazine was present 90 percent of the time and that 54 water systems had one-time spikes above 3 parts per billion in 2003 and 2004, according to an analysis by the NRDC.
NRDC scientists and lawyers argue that the EPA’s limits are too lenient, given studies showing the effects of low levels of atrazine on rats and other animals and the fact that it is nearly impossible to epidemiologically trace the chemical’s effects on humans.
Steve Owens, assistant administrator for the EPA’s office of prevention, pesticides and toxic substances, said the agency will review its atrazine policies as part of a larger reassessment of how chemicals and pesticides are regulated.
“The Obama EPA will take a hard look at atrazine and other substances,” he said. “This thorough review will rely on transparency and sound science, including independent scientific peer review. We will continue to closely track new scientific developments and will determine whether a change in our regulatory position is appropriate.”
Atrazine can be removed by carbon filters at water treatment plants or in households. Many water treatment plants use such filters, but others do not. The Washington Aqueduct, which treats water from the Potomac River for about 1 million Washington area customers, does not treat for atrazine because it is rarely found at levels over 0.5 parts per billion in the water.
The NRDC is asking the EPA to step up its atrazine monitoring and make the results public. The group is also encouraging farmers to greatly reduce or end use of the herbicide. Atrazine is effectively banned in the European Union, though Pastoor said a similar chemical, terbuthylazine, is widely used in Europe. He noted that atrazine, introduced in 1958, is especially attractive to farmers because it lasts for about 40 days in the soil and can be applied before, during or after planting. It is considered conducive to no-till practices that reduce a field’s carbon footprint.
Atrazine is also used on lawns and golf courses in the South, and Sass said children playing on treated grass could be dangerously exposed to it. It can also concentrate in rain and fog.
Since 2003, the EPA has monitored atrazine levels in surface and ground water in 40 watersheds in the central and southern United States. The NRDC says the results raise grave concerns for wildlife and ecosystems in these areas and in the Gulf of Mexico, where much of the agricultural runoff from the Midwest ends up. Atrazine has been found to cause limb deformities and hermaphroditism in frogs at concentrations as low as 0.1 parts per billion. It is also known to kill algae and micro-organisms that make up the base of aquatic food chains, and in conjunction with other pesticides and herbicides, it suppresses animals’ immune systems.
In 2003 the NRDC filed a lawsuit charging that the EPA violated the Endangered Species Act during the atrazine re-registration process by failing to adequately consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service about how the herbicide could affect about 20 endangered species of frogs, fish, turtles and other reptiles and amphibians.
A 2008 letter from the Fish and Wildlife Service says atrazine could harm endangered Alabama sturgeon and Chesapeake Bay dwarf wedgemussel, since it is known to damage such organisms and affect food supplies, even at lower levels than what the EPA considers safe.
Negotiations between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the EPA could result in different limits or requirements for atrazine.