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Jennifer Sass’s Blog

The evidence is in - Syngenta paying pundits to spin anti-data to defend atrazine

Jennifer Sass

Posted February 27, 2012 in Health and the Environment, The Media and the Environment, U.S. Law and Policy

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Last week the Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch issued a new report dragging a lot of Syngenta's dirty laundry out into the sunlight of public scrutiny. Syngenta is the mega-corporate manufacture of agrichemicals including atrazine, the herbicide now infamous for its ability to "chemically castrate" male frogs and pose a risk to human health. The report drags a caste of paid "experts" out of the closet, showing that they've been hired by Syngenta to manipulate public information about the hazards of atrazine.

The report also names the people that are causing Syngenta some grief, and I was pleased to find my name and NRDC on that list.

Center for Media and Democracy combed through piles (and piles) of documents recently unsealed by the courts as part of a lawsuit between Syngenta and water utilities hoping to get Syngenta to help foot the bill for installing and maintaining the filters that are needed to remove atrazine from drinking water. Presently the cost is passed on to the rate-payer - you and me.

Among atrazine pundits were familiar faces like Elizabeth Whelan of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). Her medical expert on staff, Gilbert Ross (his medical license was revoked) has done jail time for frauding Medicaid.

An article published in Mother Jones links ACSH and atrazine with some work done by Jon Entine to defend the pesticide, though he swears he was doing it on his own dime and asks to be called a "Green Consultant", despite having published pieces defending plastics, fracking, and BPA in addition to atrazine.

Whelan's favorite refrain is to accuse NRDC of starting the "alar scare" - our work in the 1980s that showed the pesticide alar was being used on apples at levels that posed a measurable risk of cancer to children. NRDC was correct, successfully defended our position in court, and eventually saw EPA adjust the legal limits for alar to better protect children. But, that doesn't stop Whelan and ACSH from spinning the truth to defend toxic chemicals - for her $350K/year salary (according to the Mother Jones article).

I don't mind the annoyance of having to spar with the likes of Syngenta and their spin-scientists, but I do mind when Syngenta prevents our good government experts from doing their work of protecting our health and environment by enforcing our environmental laws.

NRDC just released a report called "Delay Game" documenting these same kinds of chemical industry tactics for other toxic chemicals including formaldehyde and TCE. Syngenta's defense of atrazine, sadly, is just another example.

It's time that Syngenta and other chemical manufacturers laid down their swords and worked with government scientists and the public to implement legally-required product restrictions for toxic chemicals and invest in the development of new safer products.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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