Originally published April 7 2014
Atrazine's adverse health effects continue to be ignored by government
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) Seven years after joining the biology faculty of the University of California-Berkeley in 2001, Tyrone Hayes stopped talking about his research with people he did not trust.
He told students in his lab, where he was raising 3,000 frogs, to hang up the telephone if they heard a "click" -- a sign that perhaps a third party might be listening in and snooping.
Hayes noticed that other scientists seemed to remember things differently, The New Yorker magazine reported, so he began carrying an audio recorder with him to meetings. "The secret to a happy, successful life of paranoia is to keep careful track of your persecutors," Hayes was fond of saying.
'Someone was in the back taking notes'
Three years earlier, the magazine reported, Syngenta -- one of the world's biggest agri-businesses -- had asked Hayes to conduct experiments with the herbicide atrazine, which is used on many U.S. crops, including more than half of the corn crop. At the time, Hayes was 31 and he had already published nearly two-dozen papers on the endocrinology of amphibians:
David Wake, a professor in Hayes's department, said that Hayes "may have had the greatest potential of anyone in the field." But, when Hayes discovered that atrazine might impede the sexual development of frogs, his dealings with Syngenta became strained, and, in November, 2000, he ended his relationship with the company.
Nevertheless, Hayes continued to experiment with and examine the herbicide independently. He was soon convinced that Syngenta representatives were following him to conferences around the world, and he was concerned that the agri-giant was behind a campaign to discredit him and destroy his reputation.
He observed that, whenever he gave public speeches or talks, there was a stranger in the back of the room jotting notes. Once in 2003, on a trip to Washington, D.C., he stayed at a different hotel every night. He stayed in touch with a few scientists from Syngenta and, after noticing that they knew a lot of details about his work and schedule, he began to suspect that they were reading his emails.
"To confuse them," The New Yorker reported, "he asked a student to write misleading e-mails from his office computer while he was travelling. He sent backup copies of his data and notes to his parents in sealed boxes. In an e-mail to one Syngenta scientist, he wrote that he had 'risked my reputation, my name . . . some say even my life, for what I thought (and now know) is right.' A few scientists had previously done experiments that anticipated Hayes's work, but no one had observed such extreme effects. In another e-mail to Syngenta, he acknowledged that it might appear that he was suffering from a 'Napoleon complex' or 'delusions of grandeur.'"
Common contaminant of drinking water
Despite all he had achieved through the years, Hayes said he felt as though he were an interloper. A Havard grad, he got his PhD at Berkeley in three-and-a-half years and was immediately hired by the Biology Department. And things appeared to being going well, until he became entwined with Syngenta -- which blocked him from publishing the results of studies in which he suggested that atrazine could also cause birth defects in humans (conclusions that have been suggested in subsequent, independent studies of the herbicide).
Since then, Hayes has devoted the past 15 years to continuing his research, but -- according to documents Syngenta was forced to release as a result of lawsuits -- the agri-giant was, indeed, keeping track of Hayes and working to discredit him:
Syngenta's public-relations team had drafted a list of four goals. The first was "discredit Hayes." In a spiral-bound notebook, Syngenta's communications manager, Sherry Ford, who referred to Hayes by his initials, wrote that the company could "prevent citing of TH data by revealing him as noncredible." He was a frequent topic of conversation at company meetings. Syngenta looked for ways to "exploit Hayes' faults/problems." "If TH involved in scandal, enviros will drop him," Ford wrote. She observed that Hayes "grew up in world (S.C.) that wouldn't accept him," "needs adulation," "doesn't sleep," was "scarred for life." She wrote, "What's motivating Hayes?--basic question."
Atrazine is the second-most common herbicide used in the U.S.; sales are estimated at about $300 million annually. The most popular is glyphosate, which is produced by that other agri-business giant, Monsanto. Atrazine, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is also one of the most common contaminants of drinking water.
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