Tyrone Hayes of the University of California, Berkeley says a widely used herbicide may have harmful effects on the endocrine system. But when he tried to publish the results, the chemicals manufacturer launched a campaign to discredit his work.
Hayes was first hired in 1997 by a company, which later became agribusiness giant Syngenta.
He was hired to study their product, Atrazine, a pesticide that is applied to more than half the corn crops in the United States, and widely used on golf courses and Christmas tree farms.
When Hayes found results Syngenta did not expect – that Atrazine causes sexual abnormalities in frogs, and could cause the same problems for humans – it refused to allow him to publish his findings.
A new article in the New Yorker Magazine uses court documents from a class action lawsuit against Syngenta to show how it sought to smear Hayes’ reputation and prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from banning the profitable chemical, which is already banned by the European Union.
“Well, here at Berkeley, I was a new assistant professor,” Hayes explained. “I was already studying the effects of hormones and the effects of chemicals that interfere with hormones on amphibian development. I was approached by the manufacturer and asked to study the effects of Atrazine, the herbicide, on frogs. And after I discovered that it interfered with male development and caused males to turn into females, to develop eggs, the company tried to prevent me from publishing and from discussing that work with other scientists outside of their panel.”
In an era where scientists are eyed with suspicion and science itself is treated as something to be debated by politicians and industry lobbyists, the last thing you’d ever want to be is the researcher whose findings conflict with corporate interests. You might find yourself followed, your reputation dismantled, your very well-being threatened — all of which happened to University of California-Berkeley biologist Tyrone Hayes when he discovered that atrazine, one of our most commonly used herbicides, might be causing gender and reproductive deformities in frogs, with potential implications for human health.
Read the full article at Salon.com