The past couple of months – or years, depending where you lie on the stream of consciousness that is Internet memes – have seen the emergence of a meme relating to one Alex Jones of Infowars. This meme pertains to one of Jones’ infamous rants in which he claims that “they” – presumably the global powers that be – are “turning the freaking frogs gay” through chemicals. Despite the oddly specific and amusingly absurd nature of this rant, the subject matter is not false.
The chemical Atrazine is a herbicide used to kill weeds in both agricultural and non-agricultural settings. While it is widely used in both the US and Australia, it is banned in the EU. The chemical was, as of 2001, the most commonly detected pesticide chemical known to be contaminating the US water supply. There have been a decent number of concerns over the safety of the chemical for both wildlife and humans, and quite a bit of research has been done to examine the impacts of the substance.
Whilst in the context of animal physiology, Atrazine is part of a class of chemicals known as “xenoestrogens”. Xenoestrogens are exactly as they sound – foreign estrogens – i.e. unnatural female hormones. Many chemicals in our modern day lifestyle can act in this manner, including dairy products, soy products, plastics, personal care products, and even non-stick cookware can cause exposure to xenoestrogenic substances. The fact that xenoestrogenic chemicals are being detected in the natural environment – in the groundwater – in sizable quantities – is an enormous red flag.
Though this is sometimes criticised as inaccurate, amphibians have a somewhat dubious honour of being particularly susceptible to pollutants and are currently suffering ongoing global population declines. Atrazine’s impact on frogs in particular is nothing short of horrific. One publication from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America comes with the alarming name of “Atrazine induces complete feminization in male African clawed frogs”. The abstract then mentions that “Ten percent of the exposed genetic males developed into functional females that copulated with unexposed males and produced viable eggs. Atrazine-exposed males suffered from depressed testosterone … suppressed mating behaviour, reduced spermatogenesis and decreased fertility”. UC Berkeley (yes, THAT UC Berkeley) also produced a study that states the findings that 75% of all adult male frogs that come into contact with Atrazine are emasculated and functionally “dead” to the ecosystem due to their inability to reproduce.
Of course, the effects of xenoestrogens certainly aren’t limited to frogs and certainly are present in humans. This massive thesis by Barbara Mary Thomson of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand suggests in its abstract that for an average New Zealander, xenoestrogens in the diet contribute an additional 12-90% extra estrogen “above normal circulating levels”.
The impact of xenoestrogen exposure on humans is starting to be understood more clearly, and the picture isn’t pretty. Xenoestrogens can cause: breast cancer, infertility, disturbance of insulin production, birth defects, reduction in testicle tissue and efficacy, depression caused by testosterone suppression, premature aging and obesity.
This all comes at a time when men’s sperm production is declining worldwide, as the “scientific community is struggling to find an explanation”. Male congential birth defects are increasing, such as the incidence of micropenis and cryptorchidism.
Unfortunately, the mainstream does not seem to fully understand or appreciate the huge risks we are getting ourselves into by carelessly spraying Atrazine and using other xenoestrogenic chemicals in our daily lives. For those poor African Clawed Frogs, the aforementioned Atrazine impacts occur at 0.1 parts per billion – 30 times lower than levels allowed in drinking water by the EPA (the Environmental Protection Authority, in the United States). Disturbingly, while the EU banned the chemical in 2003, the EPA in America decided to allow its continued use, stating in 2009 that “the agency’s scientific bases for its regulation of atrazine are robust and ensure prevention of exposure levels that could lead to reproductive effects in humans.” It is a subject of continuing debate and investigation – while the damage is being done before our very eyes – and we do nothing, barely even discussing it.
They say ad hominem is the lowest form of argument – and yet, for Syngenta, the company behind Atrazine, this was standard operating procedure for harassing and attempting to discredit Tyrone Hayes, one of the most prominent and influential Atrazine researchers.