Dow’s Rules, Dow Rules

How many aces should one player be allowed to have?

As the New York Times reported last week, the EPA has denied a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to revoke approval of the herbicide 2,4-D.  A story about an environmental advocacy group coming up short – - unfortunately, we have heard that tale before.

Further down in the Times’ article, however, comes the real story that explains what happened here and also why efforts to limit environmental and human exposures to toxic substances is such a enormous challenge.

See, the weed-killer in question, known better by its shortened name than by its full chemical name, 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world.  And, the Times reports, Dow Chemical is one of the product’s major manufacturers.

Turns out that Dow (along with Monsanto) is also applying for federal approval for a genetically-modified corn.  What is this particular corn seed genetically modified to do?  Dow’s corn is specially designed to resist the toxic effects of 2,4-D  The advantages of Dow’s corn?  Farmers can use more 2,4-D to treat crops for weeds.

So, Dow wants to sell its genetically modified corn and in so doing sell more weed killer.  It’s a win-win for Dow.

The NRDC petition asked EPA to revisit the question of whether Dow’s weed killer is safe.  This seems like a perfectly fair question, especially considering that there is likely to be a lot more 2,4-D introduced into the environment if Dow’s genetically-engineered corn gains acceptance.  The NRDC, according to the TImes, cited various scientific studies that suggested links between exposure to 2,4-D and serious health consequences, including hormone disruption and other genotoxic and neurotoxic effects.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has given 2,4-D a classification of 2B, which is for substances possibly carcinogenic to humans.

One study showed increased incidence of lymphoma among farmers exposed to 2,4-D.  EPA viewed the study as inconclusive because the farmers could have been exposed to many things so it would be difficult to pin the cancers specifically on the 2,4-D.  2,4-D is also well known as one of the components of Agent Orange, controversial defoliant used widely during the Vietnam War.  But studies have showed that health problems from exposure to Agent Orange were attributable to exposure to other ingredients, not the 2,4-D.

In rejecting NRDC’s claims that there is scientific basis for concern about exposure to 2,4-D, the EPA cited, among others, a study that failed to establish evidence of reproductive problems in rodents fed a diet of high-dose 2,4-D.  The study EPA relied on, that’s right, was a study conducted by industry and by Dow Chemical.

If the EPA is to have any credibility in these sorts of determinations, then there should be more separation.  Dow has a powerful interest here.  Dow’s science should not be any basis for permitting Dow’s products to pass muster at the agency charged with protecting our safety, not Dow’s.