Farmers equate saying goodbye to atrazine to depleting Floridian agriculture. But a growing number of scientists believe atrazine, an herbicide widely used to remove weeds and promote the growth of cash-crop sugar cane, may cause cancer and birth defects in animals and humans. While the EPA met recently to review new scientific findings, "no decision has been made," says spokesman Dale Kemery.
The scientific advisory panel (SAP) has 90 days to submit its findings to the rest of the agency, Kemery said. If they choose to ban atrazine, it will not take effect until after September's SAP meets.
Ryan Weston, executive vice president of the Florida Sugar Cane League, has said that atrazine is "the only cost-effective chemical at this time" to produce sugarcane. "Food production in the U.S. and the world is somewhat dependent on the help of chemicals," Weston told me. "Without enhancements the world would not be able to feed themselves."
In 2008, Florida grew $442 million worth of sugar cane, half the value grown nationwide. Clewiston, in Hendry County, and Belle Glade are the epicenters of the crop.
However, some say atrazine is a menace--one that extends beyond crop fields. Boca resident Cindy Weber says that South Florida Water Management's liberal application of atrazine to canal banks destroyed all natural vegetation, causing the banks to erode.
"It was basically a bird sanctuary. You can name any bird in South Florida and it lived in that area. Because of the pesticide and herbicide usage, nothing is living there," Weber says.
The South Florida Water Management did not return a phone call for comment.
The SAP will meet again on Sept. 14 - 17, where the EPA will evaluate the non-cancer effects of atrazine, based on experimental laboratory studies, according to Kemery.
As April's panel submits its discovery within the 90-day period, this site will be updated to reflect the latest opinions.