By ELIZABETH WARMERDAM
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday agreed to analyze effects of glyphosate and three other commonly used pesticides on 1,500 endangered plants and animals in the United States.
The settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity came more than 8 years after the environmental group sued the EPA, claiming it shirked its responsibilities for decades by refusing analyze pesticides’ effects on endangered species.
The EPA agreed to complete assessments of the impact of glyphosate, atrazine and two other pesticides on endangered species by 2020.
Glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, is the most commonly used agricultural chemical in the United States.
France banned the sale of Roundup at garden centers throughout the country last week, two months after the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared glyphosate a probable human carcinogen.
Atrazine is mainly used on corn, sugarcane and sorghum, and also is used on lawns and golf courses. Up to 80 million pounds of the pesticide are used in the United States each year, the Center said.
The environmental group says the chemical chemically castrates frogs, and may be linked to increased risks of thyroid cancer, reproductive harm and birth defects in humans.
“The EPA should have banned this years ago,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center.
In the United States, atrazine is second in popularity only to glyphosate.
The EPA registered glyphosate in 1974 and re-registered it in 1993. Major increase in use of glyphosate in the past two decades has come with widespread adoption of herbicide-tolerant, genetically engineered crops such as corn and soy.
The EPA has never completed any endangered species assessments of glyphosate at any point over the lifetime of the chemical on the market.
“With more than 300 million pounds of this stuff being dumped on our landscape each year, it’s hard to even fathom the damage it’s doing,” Hartl said.
Monsanto called the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s cancer warning “junk science.”
“IARC’s work is not a study, and it references no new data or studies,” Monsanto’s chief technology officer Robb Fraley said. “Instead, IARC only looked at a limited number of existing studies. Respected agencies around the world have looked at the same studies, plus many more, and determined that all labeled uses of glyphosate are safe. IARC’s process is not transparent, its decision is irresponsible, and has the potential to cause confusion about such an important issue as safety.”
Fraley said glyphosate-based herbicides on the market meet rigorous standards set by regulatory and health authorities.
Glyphosate has been blamed for the decline of the monarch butterfly, whose population has dropped by 90 percent since 1995.
The Natural Resources Defense Council says the herbicide has almost eradicated milkweed, which monarchs use for forage.
The NRDC in November 2014 filed a petition asking the EPA to immediately review glyphosate and its impact on monarchs and implement measures to limit the chemical’s harm to the species.
Although agreeing that the monarch butterfly is in jeopardy, the EPA rejected the petition in a letter to NRDC Tuesday , stating that the EPA “at this time has not determined that glyphosate causes unreasonable adverse effects to the monarch butterfly.”
“The primary concern for the monarch butterfly and its resources should not be focused on just glyphosate,” the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs Director Jack Housenger wrote. “The primary concern for monarch butterflies is the reduced availability of milkweed, which is necessary for their life cycle. Therefore, focusing on glyphosate may only result in intensified use of other herbicides that may be just as detrimental to monarch butterflies or pose other human health or ecological risks.”
Housenger cited work in progress to protect the butterfly as a result of the White House Pollinator Task Force Plan, issued last month, and international work with Mexico and Canada to protect the butterfly’s migration pathway.
Sylvia Fallon, director of the Wildlife Conservation Project for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the EPA “apparently plans to study the monarch migration to extinction.”
“Everyone loves the monarch, including the Obama White House. But love isn’t going to save monarchs from glyphosate,” Fallon said.
The last time the EPA evaluated the general ecological impacts of glyphosate was in 1993, when only 10 million pounds were being applied annually.
The Center for Biological Diversity’s 2007 federal lawsuit accused the EPA of violating the Endangered Species Act by registering and allowing the use of a number of pesticides in endangered species habitats in the San Francisco Bay Area without any assessment of the impact the chemicals might have on the species.
The court issued an injunction in 2010 , restricting the use of 75 pesticides in eight Bay Area counties and giving the EPA five years to assess the potential harmful effects of the pesticides on 11 endangered species. The EPA has completed analysis of 59 of the 75 pesticides.
Thursday’s settlement amends the 2010 order. The EPA and the Center for Biological Diversity agreed it would be more significant if a nationwide impact assessment was conducted on atrazine and glyphosate, as well as propazine and simazine, which are chemically similar to atrazine.
“This settlement is the first step to reining in the widespread use of dangerous pesticides that are harming both wildlife and people,” said Hartl with the Center.
Last year, the Center for Biological Diversity reached a nationwide settlement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that required the agency to analyze impacts on endangered species of five pesticides – carbaryl, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, malathion and methomyl – which have been found to be toxic to wildlife and may pose a health risk to humans.
The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.