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Syngenta US News

Vern Hawkins Letter to the Editor in response to New York Times Article

Dear Sirs/Madams:

Your recent article, “Pesticide Studies Won E.P.A.’s Trust, Until Trump’s Team Scorned ‘Secret Science,” does a disservice to your readers by misinforming them on several points, including the registration process for Syngenta’s popular herbicide, atrazine. 

Contrary to what is suggested in the article, the Environmental Protection Agency’s assessment of atrazine is of no recent vintage. The product has been on the market for more than 50 years now and has been approved as safe to use by every administration, both Democratic and Republican, in that time. The present review, which is nearing completion, was carried out in large part under the Obama administration, and it was the Obama EPA, with the advice of their independent Scientific Review Panel, that deemed the outside epidemiological studies on atrazine deeply flawed. 

Atrazine is one of the most thoroughly studied chemicals on the market, with almost 7,000 studies – both independent academic studies and industry-funded and EPA-reviewed studies – attesting to its safety. It’s important to note that these “industry-funded” studies are completely transparent to the EPA, which approves their design, often inspects the laboratory while the study is in process, and has every single data point accessible to them when they are doing their safety reviews. We wish that all studies were so transparent.

The science on atrazine is clear: no one ever has and no one ever could be exposed to enough atrazine in the environment to affect their health. That is why the World Health Organization (WHO), after a careful review, actually raised its recommended safe level of atrazine in drinking water to 100 parts per billion - 33 times higher than the U.S. limit of 3 parts per billion. 

None of these critical points, which might have lent a more balanced perspective to your article, were mentioned. Further, the authors once again make the erroneous assertion that atrazine has been banned in the European Union. In fact, the EU sets very low allowable levels for all pesticides in water -- one thousand times lower than levels WHO considers safe -- and managing usage to achieve them would render the herbicide ineffective. For that reason, Syngenta withdrew atrazine from the European market. Atrazine has not, as implied in the article, been banned and EU regulators did not deem it unsafe. 

We have raised these issues with your publication in the past and will continue to do so. As a science-based company, we believe that a complete airing of all the facts in a balanced, fair and open way is essential to keeping the public informed on these important topics. 


Vern Hawkins
Syngenta North America Regional Director for Crop Protection