A Field of Nightmares? Atrazine, Corn, and Frogs

I’ve always had a sentimental attachment to cornfields—from the magical cornfield in Field of Dreams to the real cornfield across the road from a house I lived in during college years. My mother was born and raised in Iowa and I’m descended from farmers.


But chemicals, in particular Atrazine, used as herbicides on cornfields might be poisoning frogs (and people), and turning fields of dreams into fields of nightmares.  These herbicides run off cornfields into streams and rivers, and leak through the water-treatment process, contaminating groundwater and drinking-water supplies.

Last summer we blogged about the problems of Atrazine. Research by University of California, Berkeley professor  Dr. Tyrone Hayes, for example, has shown the effects this chemical—an endrocrine disruptor—has on frogs. It can cause birth defects and reproductive problems, including such bizarre deformities as male frogs with eggs in their testes. This past week, as reported in the Washington Post, new research at the University of Ottawa found that when exposed to Atrazine fewer tadpoles reached froglet stage. Atrazine appears to affect estrogen in humans as well and has been connected with ferility problems, cancer, and birth defects.

Warning in a Cornfield

Warning in a Cornfield

The EPA, under the Obama administration, has launched a review of the chemical that will continue until fall 2010. It will look closely at Atrazine and other endrocrine disruptors, which might result in tighter restrictions on their use. While this sounds hopeful, Atrazine’s primary manufacturer, Syngenta, has strong ties and influence within the EPA. (Atrazine is banned in Europe, where perhaps industry and government aren’t as closely intertwined as they are in the U.S.).

For more information, please see this PDF,  a report by the Land Stewardship Project and the Pesticide Action Network North America titled The Syngenta Corporation: The Cost to the Land, People, and Democracy.