There’s been a flurry of activity in the Minnesota press about atrazine, frogs, and skullduggery. As reported initially by Tom Meersman of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, a well-known UC Berkeley biologist, Dr. Tyrone Hayes, was first invited, and then disinvited, to give the keynote speech at a conference organized by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Emails obtained by the Star-Tribune between Hayes and a member of the Pollution Control Agency staff indicate that pressure was brought by the state Department of Agriculture to block the talk. Hayes has demonstrated that when tadpoles are exposed to atrazine at levels widely found in Minnesota drinking water, they grow up hermaphroditic, something no self-respecting frog — or at least one interested in reproducing successfully — would want to be. The political interference apparently backfired, because after press coverage of the cancellation, Hayes was invited to speak to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, which he did on 25 October. As described by Dennis Lein of the St. Paul Pioneer Press
Hayes, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, spent almost two hours explaining research he and others have done demonstrating defects in amphibians, birds, reptiles, and fish, as well as health problems in people, after they’ve been exposed to trace amounts of atrazine. Often, he said, sexual development is affected, with creatures forming both male and female sexual organs.
Hayes’s testimony led the chairman of the committee to say that Minnesota state legislators should consider banning the herbicide, of which some 3.2 million pounds were sold in the state last year. It also led the Star-Tribune to editorialize about the process:
It may never be clear exactly who pressured whom to soft-pedal Tyrone Hayes’ new research on atrazine and frogs, but this much seems certain: Revelation of this clumsy effort, and officials’ lame attempts to explain it away, have helped focus public attention on exactly the questions they hoped to downplay.
These fall into two groups. One set is about science, and the risks that atrazine-contaminated water may pose for animal and human health. The other is about regulatory practice, and the campaign by Syngenta, atrazine’s manufacturer, to protect an important product by gaming government regulators.
For synopses of Hayes’s research and links to more of the press coverage it has received, follow this link