Syngenta Defends Atrazine

Last week’s CropLife eNews included a short report on an Illinois atrazine court case. This week, Syngenta Crop Protection — one of the defendants in the case and the largest U.S. maker of atrazine — provides the low-down from the agricultural perspective.

For starters, the atrazine manufacturers won a few points, too.

And the point they lost, to dismiss the case entirely? Not unusual, actually.

The Holiday Shores Sanitary District in Madison County, IL, filed a class action lawsuit in state court on July 2, 2004, against five manufacturers and one formulator of atrazine on its own behalf and on behalf of various community water systems in Illinois. The manufacturers are Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences LLC, Drexel Chemical Co., Makhteshim Agan Industries, Ltd., and Sipcam Agro USA. The formulator is United Agri Products (UAP), recently acquired by Agrium Inc.

Named as a co-defendant in each of the six identical suits is GROWMARK, Inc., a CropLife 100 retailer headquartered in Bloomington, IL.

While Madison County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Stack is allowing the case to proceed, motions to dismiss at such an early stage are rarely granted. That point was made during a conference call with Kurtis B. Reeg, president of Reeg & Nowogrocki, LLC of St. Louis, MO and Sherry Ford, head, external communications, crop protection for Syngenta Corp. Reeg is an outside counsel for Syngenta in this case.

The Aug. 28 CropLife eNews article quotes the opposing counsel’s press release statement that Madison County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Stack “allows the lawsuit to proceed after finding that the water providers had sufficient facts to show that the manufacturers had knowledge of the possible harm of the chemical.” This statement, says Reeg, “is absolutely incorrect. The judge made no such finding. The judge thought that they had stated enough to make their claim, so he is now going to let the case proceed.

“The only different posture in the case is that the judge DID dismiss, per our request, Holiday Shores’ request for a declaratory relief,” he says. “They wanted the judge to use his equitable powers to declare that atrazine was hazardous. Judge Stack ruled that was inappropriate.

“He also dismissed their claim for punitive damages,” Reeg adds. “He said that Holiday Shores had not followed the proper rules or timing to assert punitive damages.”

Judge Stack also dismissed GROWMARK from the case, but gave Holiday Shores the right to refile the case against GROWMARK and make whatever other changes they thought were appropriate, Reeg explains. The newest version of the lawsuit is due to the court this week.

Syngenta Crop Protection “will vigorously defend this matter,” says Reeg. Atrazine, which has been on the market 50 years and re-registered by EPA in 2006, is a commonly used herbicide in U.S. for crops such as corn. Ford notes that EPA estimates that atrazine saves corn farmers $28 per acre in herbicide costs and yield advantages. Data from USDA show that atrazine also is the most widely used corn herbicide in conservation tillage systems, which can reduce soil erosion by as much as 90 percent, protecting water from sediment, the number one pollutant of U.S. waterways.

The federal and Illinois state maximum contaminant level for atrazine in drinking water is 3 parts per billion (ppb) with a 1,000-fold safety factor built in. Holiday Shores’ drinking water has not exceeded that level since 1997, according to Reeg. “Holiday Shores is now claiming in court that it’s hazardous at levels as low as point one (.1) ppb,” he adds.

“We’re really interested in maintaining the stringent federal regulatory process that’s in place because it works,” Reeg says. “It’s science-based and we don’t think local courts should be supplanting their judgment for the years of work that the EPA scientists and their experts have done.”

Syngenta believes that by ignoring the established governmental safety standards for crop protection chemicals, this lawsuit, if successful, could penalize Illinois growers, who have used atrazine safely for 50 years to grow abundant, healthy, and profitable corn crops.

The lawsuit also has implications that go far beyond atrazine by setting a precedent which favors local litigation throughout the country that would render meaningless federal regulation standards for many products used by consumers, growers, and industry.

It is interesting to note that since this case was filed, EPA has again ruled that atrazine poses no harm to human health when used appropriately.

According to Syngenta’s Ford, “the key takeaway for retailers is that atrazine has been re-registered after an exhaustive scientific review by EPA and it will continue to be available to them.”

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