Dr. Tyrone Hayes and Atrazine

This video is so important, we needed to share it on our site too. We have collaborated in the past with Save the Frogs on their campaign to Ban Atrazine.

Ban Atrazine graphic designed by Susan Newman

Original broadcast:

http://www.democracynow.org – We speak with a University of California scientist Tyrone Hayes, who discovered a widely used herbicide may have harmful effects on the endocrine system. But when he tried to publish the results, the chemical’s manufacturer launched a campaign to discredit his work. Hayes was first hired in 1997 by a company, which later became agribusiness giant Syngenta, to study their product, Atrazine, a pesticide that is applied to more than half the corn crops in the United States, and widely used on golf courses and Christmas tree farms. When Hayes found results Syngenta did not expect — that Atrazine causes sexual abnormalities in frogs, and could cause the same problems for humans — it refused to allow him to publish his findings. A new article in The New Yorker magazine uses court documents from a class-action lawsuit against Syngenta to show how it sought to smear Hayes’ reputation and prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from banning the profitable chemical, which is already banned by the European Union.

Democracy Now!, is an independent global news hour that airs weekdays on 1,200+ TV and radio stations Monday through Friday. Watch our livestream 8-9am ET at http://www.democracynow.org.


Chemical Pollution in Your Backyard: Researching the Effects of Endocrine Disruptors in Suburbia

We were so pleased to receive this guest post by Geoffrey Giller, who is a Master’s of Environmental Science candidate, 2013, at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences. At Frogs Are Green, we have explored the issue of endocrine disruptors and their possible effects on frogs, as well as on humans. We look forward to learning the results of his research.

Geoffrey Giller environmental sciences Yale school

Geoff Giller readying nets for sampling at a golf course (Photo credit: Susan Bolden)

Frogs are threatened globally by a host of stressors, from habitat loss to climate change to infectious diseases. One threat receiving increased scientific attention is endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These chemicals interfere with normal hormonal function. In 2002, Dr. Tyrone Hayes published a paper in Nature detailing the feminizing effects of the widely-used pesticide atrazine on male African clawed frogs. Since then, there has been increasing research showing similar effects of other EDCs on frogs and fish. There is also more and more evidence that endocrine disruptors are widely prevalent pollutants in the water bodies of the United States.

As a Master’s student at Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, I want to further investigate the presence and effects of these EDCs. My advisor, Dr. David Skelly, recently published a paper showing that green frog hermaphrodites are most prevalent in suburban areas. While most research since Dr. Hayes’ paper has focused on agricultural areas, Dr. Skelly’s work indicated that there may be a significant source of EDCs causing these high rates of hermaphroditism (as demonstrated by the presence of egg cells in the gonads of male green frogs) in suburban areas.

photomicrographic frog cells

Testicular oocytes (egg cells in male gonads) from Skelly et al. 2010

This topic has implications both for frog conservation, as such sexual deformities likely inhibit frogs’ abilities to reproduce, and for human health, since suburban areas are much more densely populated than agricultural ones. But while the presence of these deformities has been confirmed, their cause has not. Dr. Skelly has hypothesized that the cause may be certain EDCs called synthetic estrogenic compounds; these chemicals are found in medications such as birth control pills as well as in some cosmetic products. The source of these chemicals would likely be septic tanks that leach chemicals into the groundwater; this contaminated groundwater then flows into nearby ponds, streams, and wetlands where frogs breed and live.

I am working with my fellow Master’s student, Max Lambert, to identify exactly what chemicals are present in the groundwater and pond water in suburban areas and what effect these chemicals are having on frogs. In collaboration with scientists at USGS, we will be installing sampling devices at 9 suburban sites, as well as three agricultural and three forested sites as comparisons. We will sample the groundwater and the pond water for a large range of chemicals including medications, synthetic estrogens, pesticides, and a host of other man-made compounds. This study will provide a list of the chemicals that may be responsible for the deformities in the frogs that we are observing.

Small Frog size of fingernail

Max Lambert with a peeper (Photo credit: Hannah Erin Bement)

In addition to the water testing, we will be surveying three types of frogs—American toads, gray tree frogs, and pickerel frogs—for similar sexual deformities. By combining the data from our water testing with the rates of deformities in frogs at these same ponds, we will be able to say which chemicals are likely causing deformities, and which are not. This information will be crucial for the future regulation of these chemicals.

The main stumbling block of this project is the cost. EDCs can have significant biological effects when present at very low concentrations; however, doing water testing for such low concentrations of chemicals requires highly specialized equipment. While some of our costs are covered by our collaboration with USGS, we still need to raise some funds. For more information on our project, and for a chance to help us out with this research, please go here: http://www.petridish.org/projects/estrogens-in-your-backyard-the-chemical-ecology-of-suburbia. This website allows researchers to raise necessary resources through “crowdfunding,” or multiple small donations from a large number of people. We are close to our target funding amount, but could use a little more help. Take a look at our page (as well as the various rewards for different donation amounts), and we would be incredibly grateful for your support!


Back to School at FROGS ARE GREEN!

It’s back-to-school time and we’d like to introduce you to a few notable children’s books about frogs and other amphibians published recently:

THE FROG SCIENTIST by Pamela S. Turner, photographs by Andy Comins (Houghton Mifflin, 2009)

Dr. Tyrone Hayes, with his children, reads a book his mother gave him as a child, from THE FROG SCIENTIST. Photo copyright Andy Comins.

This book, part of the Scientist in the Field Series, is a biography of frog scientist Dr. Tyrone Hayes at UC-Berkeley, who has done groundbreaking studies about the effects of atrazine, a widely used herbicide, on frogs.  While the book is mainly a biography of Hayes, it is also a good overview of the global amphibian crisis and it includes an easy-to-understand explanation of the scientific method. The book has a lively, engaging design and many wonderful photos. It would be ideal for kids who are at that age (around 10 or so) when they decide that “science is boring.”

Dr. Hayes is an engaging subject for a biography, and the anecdotes about him are refreshing for this type of book (which can often be dry). A whole unit could be planned around THE FROG SCIENTIST, covering such topics as a science as a career, African Americans in science, the global amphibian decline, the scientific method, to name just a few.

A PLACE FOR FROGS by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Higgins Ford (Peachtree 2009).

A PLACE FOR FROGS by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Higgins Bond

For younger children (@5-8), this nonfiction picture book introduces different species of frogs and places them in their habitats. Each oversized double-page spread features a frogs species, their habitat, and shows some of the ways that human action and interaction can affect frog populations.

For example, one spread describes the Sierra Nevada Yellow-legged frog and its habitat, and explains why adding trout to the frogs ponds caused their decline (the trouts devoured the tadpoles). When people removed the trout, the frog populations began to recover. The frog and its habitat is depicted in gorgeous realistic paintings and is described in easy-to-understand language.

A Place for Frogs could be used for teaching kids about animal habitats (this author/artist team also did A Place for Butterflies and A Place for Birds). It could also be used in a unit about endangered animals, a unit devoted to frogs and amphibians, or it could be read as a springboard to study a local endangered frog in more detail, depending on where the school is located.

Big Night for Salamanders by Sarah Marwil Lamstein, art by Carol Benioff (Boyds Mill, 2010).

Illustration from BIG NIGHT FOR SALAMANDERS by Sarah Marwil Lamstein, art by Carol Benioff

In this narrative nonfiction picture book, a boy waits for the Big Night, the first rainy night in late winter or early spring when the blue-spotted salamanders begin their annual migrations. The salamanders must travel from their forest burrows to vernal pools, where they breed and lay eggs. The problem is the salamanders must cross a busy highway to reach the vernal pools. The boy, along with other volunteers, helps the salamanders cross the road. A parallel text in italics describes the migration of salamanders.

This is a lovely simple story about how one boy helps an endangered species close to home. It is illustrated in richly-colored gouache. At the back is information about the life cycle of blue-spotted salamanders, as well as information about the Big Night and vernal pools.

Big Night for Salamanders would be a good read-aloud book for younger children. It could also be used in units about the life cycles of animals, and about species whose habitats are threatened. Teachers could read this book in the spring and plan a field trip to a local vernal pool.

Don’t forget about the FROGS ARE GREEN ART CONTEST FOR KIDS! Please download and print out this flyer to tell kids about the contest.


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.