Fifty years after its introduction, atrazine is still used by farmers to control weeds. Not only is the herbicide’s longevity surprising, so too, claim farmer groups, is the scrutiny it is under by the EPA.
Only four years ago — and on the heels of a 12-year study — EPA scientists deemed proper use of atrazine acceptable to the nation’s environment. Then, last year, to the disbelief of many in the agriculture sector, EPA administrators claimed another review was necessary.
Now, a peripheral issue regarding atrazine has emerged and caught the interest of farm-state legislators. This was obvious during a Sept. 23 Senate Agriculture Committee hearing where EPA administrator Lisa Jackson was grilled on a variety of controversies the agency is mired in. The point was driven home during Jere White’s testimony as part of the farmer/advocate panel that followed Jackson.
White — who heads both the Kansas Corn Growers Association (KCGA) and Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers (KGSP) — testified that lawyers pushing an atrazine-related class action suit in Illinois had not only subpoenaed the groups he represents but also him personally. The timing of the subpoenas is especially curious, as they were issued the day after White spoke publicly against such legal tactics during a mid-September EPA meeting.
White, who has been deeply involved with atrazine issues for over two decades, was backed during the hearing by Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts who angrily denounced the subpoenas, calling them an attempt to stifle debate.
The following day, Farm Press spoke with White shortly before he traveled abroad. White told a winding, interesting tale that incorporates science, government bureaucracy, chemical industry consolidation, lawyers fishing and interest group pressures. Among his comments:
To lay the groundwork for what’s happened with what these attorneys, please explain your involvement with atrazine.
“My involvement on the atrazine issue actually predates the (EPA’s) special review.
“There were some water quality concerns that were raised in Kansas back in the late 1980s. Through our association we got involved in working on BMP (best management practices) implementation, trying to figure out what was going on and address concerns. The state formed a pesticide management area to see what could be done about atrazine levels.
“Part of this was predicated on the fact that the EPA was in the process of lowering the standard to 3 parts per million.
“Jump forward to the special review of 1994. I got more heavily involved because of the work we’d done in the late 1980s. I had a little more awareness of the product and the issues associated with it.
“At that time, the major crops typically hadn’t been very involved in pesticide registration issues. The assumption was that the registrants would do what was needed and there just wasn’t a lot of grower involvement…
“So, I helped other states figure out what they should be concerned with and working on with regards to registrations. I also helped them with BMPs and water quality issues relative to pesticides. That was simply because we’d already done some of that in Kansas and it made sense to share since resources were limited.”