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Atrazine Cancer Claims Not Supported by the Evidence

Date: 1 May 2009
Ref: 2009/06

‘Claims that Tasmanians are at risk from developing cancer from exposure to low levels of atrazine that have been measured in Hobart water supplies and certain Tasmanian waterways are not supported by the extensive scientific and regulatory literature on the subject,’ Dr Simon Cubit, spokesperson for the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) said today.

‘These claims which have been frequently repeated are causing needless alarm and the APVMA can reassure the Tasmanian community,’ he said.

Atrazine, used in some 80 countries around the world, has been extensively studied since it was developed as a herbicide three decades ago.

‘Assessments from the 1980s that atrazine might be possibly carcinogenic for humans have been progressively downgraded by various recognised national and international authorities after they reviewed existing and emerging research.

‘Atrazine has not been banned in any jurisdiction on the basis that it may cause cancer in humans.’

In Australia the Office of Chemical Safety and Environmental Health in the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing reviewed a range of evidence on a number of occasions and found no support for the hypothesis that atrazine has the potential to cause cancer in humans.

In 1999 the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organisation, similarly downgraded its classification from ‘possible human carcinogen’ to ‘not classifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans’, a classification that rules out atrazine as a human carcinogen on the basis of current evidence. In essence, research established that the mechanism by which high dose atrazine caused cancer in one strain of rats only was not relevant to humans.

JMPR, the Joint Food and Agriculture Organisation/World Health Organisation Meetings on Pesticide Residues also concluded in 2007 that epidemiological studies do not support a causal association between exposure to atrazine and the occurrence of cancer in humans. Studies of people occupationally and environmentally exposed to atrazine have not indicated an increased risk of cancer attributable to the herbicide.

‘Taking all this evidence into account the APVMA concluded, in its 2008 review of atrazine, that atrazine could be safely used in Australia subject to increased regulation designed to keep atrazine out of waterways,’ Dr Cubit said.

‘Tasmanians therefore have no cause for concern that their health is at risk from the very low concentrations of atrazine that have been detected in some water ways,’ he said.

Comprehensive details of the APVMA review of atrazine are available on the APVMA website.

Similar evaluations undertaken by national regulators and international organisations on a second hypothesis – that atrazine is an endocrine disruptor - have to date found that the weight of evidence does not support claims that humans are at risk from environmental concentrations of atrazine.


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