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EU bans endocrine disrupting herbicides

Pesticides pose risks to aquatic life, groundwater, committee says

by Britt E. Erickson
April 21, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 17

Three herbicides—amitrole, isoproturon, and triasulfuron—will be banned in the European Union, effective Sept. 30. An EU standing committee voted April 15 against renewing approval of the chemicals, citing potential groundwater contamination and risks to aquatic life.

Two of the herbicides—amitrole and isoproturon—have been heavily scrutinized because of their ability to mimic hormones and disrupt the endocrine system. The European Food Safety Authority previously raised concerns about the endocrine-disrupting effects of the two herbicides, as well as data gaps related to their toxicity.

EU officials had the option of banning the pesticides as endocrine disruptors. Under a 2009 EU pesticide regulation, endocrine-disrupting pesticides are not allowed on the EU market. But under that legislation, industry can apply for exemptions for “negligible exposure” and “serious danger to plant health.”

Environmental groups are speculating that EU officials chose not to regulate the herbicides on the basis of their endocrine-disrupting effects because of these exemptions. Instead, EU officials say they based their decision on other concerns, such as risks to groundwater and aquatic plants, and gaps in toxicity data.

Approval of the three herbicides in the EU was set to expire on June 30, but EU officials extended the date by three months in response to pushback from pesticide manufacturers. EU member states must withdraw their approvals of the three herbicides by Sept. 30, but they can allow a grace period of up to one additional year to phase out the chemicals.

Amitrole and isoproturon, marketed by Nufarm and other companies, are widely used across the EU. Amitrole, a triazole herbicide used to control annual grasses and aquatic weeds, is not used on food crops because it causes cancer in laboratory animals. Isoproturon is a selective, systemic herbicide used to control annual grasses and broadleaf weeds in cereals in several EU countries. Triasulfuron, a sulfonylurea herbicide made by Syngenta, is used on cereal crops throughout the world.

The environmental group Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe is welcoming the EU’s decision to ban the herbicides, but it notes that many other endocrine-disrupting pesticides still remain on the market. The group is urging EU officials to stop delaying their decision on those chemicals. “In the meantime, these pesticides stay on the market, and people and the environment remain unprotected against their harms,” the group warns.



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