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Congress and physicians fear new weed killer will significanltly harm children

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Photo by Rob Tucker/Getty Images

A pending federal decision to approve a new herbicide has 50 members of Congress and untold numbers of physicians worried for the health of children worldwide. Members of Congress and doctors are urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reject a new weed killer, called Enlist Duo, as well as the genetically engineered seeds that would be used with it. Today (Aug. 1, 2014), the EPA was presented with a letter from 50 Congressional leaders citing concerns over the new herbicide.

Last week (June 30, 2014), doctors and scientists urged lawmakers at a Congressional briefing to pressure the Obama administration to deny Dow’s application because of the known health risks. Thirty-five doctors and scientists also sent a letter to the EPA pointing out the flaws in the risk assessment and urging the agency to not grant approval.

Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) organized a “dear colleague" letter that highlights concerns they have about potential serious health risks linked to exposure of 2,4-D – the toxic herbicide that Dow Agrosciences combined with glyphosate to create Enlist Duo. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the well-known weed killer Roundup.

The decision has been ongoing for more than a year because of pleas, like those in the letters, to reject its approval. In April 2014, the EPA said they were prepared to approve the use of the herbicide. Enlist Duo would potentially be used on millions of acres of cropland planted with a new variety of corn and soybean seeds that have been genetically engineered to tolerate Enlist Duo.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the EPA’s and USDA’s pending decision to approve Enlist Duo for use on these crops would increase the use of 2,4-D in the U.S. by three-to-seven-fold by 2020. They also fear use of the herbicide will have multiplicative effects to children's health, the farming community and the environment.

The herbicide is being proposed to combat a problem called super-weeds, whereby GMO-crops have become resistant to the glyphosate herbicide. Enlist Duo is designed to address the issue. Gary Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm and chairman of Just Label It (GMO-labeling campaign, believes this new herbicide is a "three- to five-year solution at best."

In a press statement in April, 2014, Dow stated the following: "“In its review, the EPA acknowledged the significant scientific advancements Dow AgroSciences has achieved with Enlist Duo herbicide” says Damon Palmer, U.S. commercial leader for Enlist, Dow AgroSciences. “Enlist Duo herbicide will help solve the weed control challenges growers are facing, and will be another option to further reduce the potential for development of herbicide-resistant weeds.” Data from late last year showed that more than 86 percent of corn, soybean and cotton growers in the South and 61 percent in the Midwest reported hard to control weeds on their farms."

However, the 50 Congressional signers aren't buying Dow's assurance of safety and scientific assessment. In the letter they say, "While they are often touted as a solution to herbicide resistant weeds, even the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) recognizes in its draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that deregulating 2,4-D crops will spur the further evolution of 2,4-D resistant weeds and cause a three-to-seven fold increase in 2,4-D use."

The signed letters from both physicians and Congress calls out the EPA for disregarding toxicity tests in its risk assessment of Enlist Duo, even though the agency acknowledged “there could be additional toxicological effects (synergistic or additive) because of the presence of two herbicides.” Both groups say the agency failed to apply a key safety factor required by federal law when a chemical poses potential risks specific to young children. In particular, EPA’s assessment omitted the possibility of inhaling 2,4-D – even though that’s one of the primary routes of exposure. Risks would be much higher for children in residential communities, schools and daycare centers near sprayed fields.

In the letter signed by the members of Congress, they warn that exposure to the harmful herbicide 2,4-D has been linked to “cancer (especially non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma), decreased sperm count, liver disease and Parkinson’s disease. Further, exposure has also been shown to negatively impact the hormonal, reproductive, neurological and immune systems.”

“Members of Congress are standing up for the health of their constituents – especially children – by urging EPA and USDA not to allow Enlist Duo to blanket farm fields across the country,” said Mary Ellen Kustin, EWG senior policy analyst. “They join more than half a million people who oppose this toxic herbicide mix.” In June, EWG submitted comments to the EPA pointing out this major omission and other significant flaws in the EPA’s risk assessment.

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