Killing us slowly

6 07 2010

I’m currently attending the 2010 International Congress for Conservation Biology in Edmonton, Canada. I thought it would be good to tweet and blog my way through on topics that catch my attention. This is my second post from the conference.

I silently scoffed inside when the plenary speaker was being introduced. It was boldly claimed that we were about to hear one of the best presentations any of us had ever seen at a scientific conference before.

I cannot say for certain whether it was indeed ‘the best’, but bloody hell, it was excellent.

Our speaker is certainly well-known in the endocrinology world (very well published), is a bane to certain chemical industries and is revered as a scientist who puts his money where is mouth is.

Professor Tyrone Hayes of the University of California Berkeley is an ‘eco-endocrinologist’ who blew the lid on the devastating health effects of the most available and ubiquitous agricultural herbicide in use today – evil atrazine. As my readers know, I am certainly pushing the empirical basis for the link between environmental degradation and deterioration of human health (my talk here at the ICCB on Wednesday will be on this very topic), so this topic interests me greatly.

It’s no secret that atrazine has devastating feminising effects on amphibians (and many other taxa), and has been linked convincingly to increasing the risk of cancer in humans. It’s banned in Europe, but still widely used pretty much everywhere else.

The science is sound (see some example papers below); the politics of big business are ugly; the policy is toothless and killing us all slowly.

What really frightened me was the statement that atrazine is sometimes used in Australian pools to kill algae! I’m not sure how true this is, whether it has changed, or where we stand on legislation now, but if any Aussies are inadvertently killing themselves and their children (and killing our rapidly dwindling amphibians in the process), we need to ban this product permanently in Australia – now!

I’ve just found a rather weak statement about tightening regulation for its use in Australia, but I am a firm convert now that it should be banned outright. I will certainly follow this up.

Great science leading to great (hopefully) environmental and health outcomes. Watch out, atrazine – your days are numbered.

CJA Bradshaw

ResearchBlogging.orgHayes, T., Collins, A., Lee, M., Mendoza, M., Noriega, N., Ali Stuart, A., & Vonk, A. (2002). Hermaphroditic, demasculinized frogs after exposure to the herbicide atrazine at low ecologically relevant doses Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99 (8), 5476-5480 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.082121499

Hayes, T., Haston, K., Tsui, M., Hoang, A., Haeffele, C., & Vonk, A. (2002). Herbicides: Feminization of male frogs in the wild Nature, 419 (6910), 895-896 DOI: 10.1038/419895a

HAYES, T. (2004). There Is No Denying This: Defusing the Confusion about Atrazine BioScience, 54 (12) DOI: 10.1641/0006-3568(2004)054[1138:TINDTD]2.0.CO;2

Fan, W., Yanase, T., Morinaga, H., Gondo, S., Okabe, T., Nomura, M., Komatsu, T., Morohashi, K., Hayes, T., Takayanagi, R., & Nawata, H. (2007). Atrazine-Induced Aromatase Expression Is SF-1 Dependent: Implications for Endocrine Disruption in Wildlife and Reproductive Cancers in Humans Environmental Health Perspectives, 115 (5), 720-727 DOI: 10.1289/ehp.9758

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7 responses

30 11 2010
Putting environmental testing to the test «

[…] between species and test conditions. One study involving two herbicides – glyphosate and atrazine – required 4,500 individually growing plants to assess variation in seed characteristics, […]


19 10 2010
Panala Ramaiah

sir your work is excellent


18 07 2010
International Congress for Conservation Biology 2010 overview «

[…] me, highlights certainly include Tyrone Hayes‘ plenary on the evils of atrazine, Fangliang He‘s description of the perils of […]


7 07 2010
Megan Evans

Tyrone’s talk was an incredible demonstration of the links between biodiversity conservation, human health and social justice – and the enormous (and scary) influence of corporate interests. Certainly the first science talk I’ve seen recieve a standing ovation!


7 07 2010
Tony Wildish

I’ve heard a lot about atrazine and Hayes’ work, and it’s frightening stuff. I’ve been trying to find out if anyone else has reproduced his results, but I haven’t found anything in the peer-reviewed literature by other groups. I’m no expert in the field, so maybe I just don’t know where to look. Do you know of any independent confirmation of his results?


7 07 2010

There are many:

Boone, M.D., James S.M. (2003) Interactions of an insecticide, herbicide, and natural stressors in amphibian community mesocosms. Ecol Appl 13 , 829–841

Carr, J.A., Gentles A., Smith E.E. et al . (2003) Response of larval Xenopus laevis to atrazine: assessment of growth, metamorphosis, and gonadal and laryngeal morphology. Environ Toxicol Chem 22 , 396–405

Fatima, M., Mandiki S.N.M., Douxfils J., Silvestre F., Coppe P., Kestemont P. (2007) Combined effects of herbicides on biomarkers reflecting immune-endocrine interactions in goldfish immune and antioxidant effects. Aquat Toxicol 81 , 159–167

Larson, D.L., McDonald S., Fivizzani A.J., Newton W.E., Hamilton S.J. (1998) Effects of the herbicide atrazine on Ambystoma tigrinum metamorphosis: duration, larval growth, and hormonal response. Phys Zool 71 , 671–679

Rohr, J.R., Crumrine P.W. (2005) Effects of an herbicide and an insecticide on pond community structure and processes. Ecol Appl 15 , 1135–1147

Rohr, J.R., Elskus A.A., Shepherd B.S. et al . (2003) Lethal and sublethal effects of atrazine, carbaryl, endosulfan, and octylphenol on the streamside salamander, Ambystoma barbouri. Environ Toxicol Chem 22 , 2385–2392

Rohr, J.R., Elskus A.A., Shepherd B.S. et al . (2004) Multiple stressors and salamanders: effects of an herbicide, food limitation, and hydroperiod. Ecol Appl 14 , 1028–1040

Rohr, J.R., Mahan C.G., Kim K. (2007) Developing a monitoring program for invertebrates: guidelines and a case study. Conserv Biol 21 , 422–433

Rohr, J.R., McCoy K.A. (2010) A qualitative meta-analysis reveals consistent effects of atrazine on freshwater fish and amphibians. Environ Health Persp 118 , 20–32

Rohr, J.R., McCoy K.A. (2010) Preserving environmental health and scientific credibility: a practical guide to reducing conflicts of interest. Conserv Lett 3, 143-150

Rohr, J.R., Palmer B.D. (2005) Aquatic herbicide exposure increases salamander desiccation risk eight months later in a terrestrial environment. Environ Toxicol Chem 24 , 1253–1258

Rohr, J.R., Raffel T.R., Romansic J.M., McCallum H., Hudson P.J. (2008a) Evaluating the links between climate, disease spread, and amphibian declines. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 105 , 17436–17441

Rohr, J.R., Raffel T.R., Sessions S.K., Hudson P.J. (2008b) Understanding the net effects of pesticides on amphibian trematode infections. Ecol Appl 18 , 1743–1753

Rohr, J.R., Sager T., Sesterhenn T.M., Palmer B.D. (2006) Exposure, postexposure, and density-mediated effects of atrazine on amphibians: breaking down net effects into their parts. Environ Health Persp 114 , 46–50

Rohr, J.R., Schotthoefer A.M., Raffel T.R. et al . (2008c) Agrochemicals increase trematode infections in a declining amphibian species. Nature 455 , 1235–1239

Solomon, K.R., Carr J.A., Du Preez L.H. et al . (2008) Effects of atrazine on fish, amphibians, and aquatic reptiles: a critical review. Crit Rev Toxicol 38 , 721–772

Storrs, S.I., Kiesecker, J.M. (2004) Survivorship patterns of larval amphibians exposed to low concentrations of atrazine. Environ Health Persp 112 , 1054–1057


8 07 2010
Tony Wildish

wow, that’s quite a list! Thanks for taking the time and effort to put it together. I’ll see if I can get my hands on any of them.


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