Grower groups deny charge of protecting atrazine manufacturer

The Kansas Corn Growers Association and the Kansas Grain Sorghum Growers Producers Association denied Friday the assertion of two out-of-state law firms that the two grower groups were trying to protect the financial success of a Swiss chemical company when they responded to an effort to sign up Kansas towns to join a lawsuit against the maker of atrazine.

Instead, asserted Jere White, executive director of the two grower groups, corn and sorghum farmers are working to protect access to an important herbicide that has been safely used to control weeds on Kansas farms for years.

?The financial success we are concerned about is a lot closer to home?it is in the corn and sorghum fields of Marion County, Kan.,? White said.

?A frivolous lawsuit like this can result in taking atrazine off the shelves in Kansas and throughout farm country. That would have far-reaching consequences with our growers who rely on atrazine for weed control and conservation tillage.?

KCGA and KGSPA stated they were surprised to learn earlier this month that the farming communities of Hills?boro and Marion had signed on to a lawsuit against the makers of atrazine alleging contamination of their drinking water.

Atrazine levels in the drinking water of both cities are well below the 3 parts per billion drinking water standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

In a statement to the media, the trial attorney firms of Baron & Budd, P.C. and Korein Tillery claimed Kansas corn and sorghum farmers are only interested in protecting the financial interests of Syngenta, a Swiss company.

?Law firms whose office locations include Dallas, Chicago, Beverly Hills and St. Louis are claiming that they are just trying to protect the little guy in Marion County? I find that hard to swallow,? White said.

According to published reports, the law firms, headquartered in Dallas and St. Louis, will retain a third to a half of all the winnings if the lawsuit is successful.

?It sounds to me like these big city lawyers are the ones protecting their financial interests in this case,? White said. ?They are in Kansas trolling for water systems to sign on to their lawsuit because it is in their financial interest to do so.?

Kansas farmers use atrazine to control broadleaf weeds in corn and sorghum. Growers have funded research in Kansas to develop best management practices that help keep atrazine on the fields and away from sources of drinking water. In addition, atrazine is a crucial tool for conservation tillage in Kansas.

?We?re in this to protect our growers? interests,? White said. ?Atrazine is a safe, effective and affordable herbicide that helps our growers control weeds in their crops.

?What?s more, our growers are using practices that are keeping the levels of atrazine well below EPA?s drinking water standard. That means even according to EPA?s extremely strict standards, atrazine at these levels presents no threat to drinking water.?

The trial attorneys have told cities they are only after compensation from a foreign herbicide maker and no one else will be hurt by this lawsuit.

?Farmers have done nothing wrong,? stated the law firms? press statement. ?Kansas farmers, like farmers through the Midwest, applied atrazine according to label instructions.

?Unfortunately, atrazine degrades slowly and in many instances contaminates public drinking water,? the statement added. ?Federal law mandates filtration to bring atrazine to certain levels that can create a financial burden on cities. As a result, Syngenta should pay to eliminate atrazine from Kansas waters, not Kansas taxpayers.?

White disagreed with the law firms? assertion that Syngenta is the only party made financially vulnerable by the lawsuit.

?The contract entered into by the cities of Marion and Hillsboro states that damages may be sought not only from the maker of atrazine, but also anyone who sells it,? White said. ?They are talking about the ag retailers in our state, the local dealers like farmers cooperatives who provide our farmers with their crop protection tools.?

The Baron & Budd and Korein Tillery law firms asserted that cities are required to add filtration systems just to get atrazine levels within federal standards.

?If your atrazine levels are well within the federal standards anyway, why would you invest in new filtration systems to meet those standards?? White said.

?Their premise is flawed in that they believe water should be completely free of all levels of contaminants. The list of contaminants that EPA monitors is six pages long with a total of 87 contaminants with maximum contaminant levels designated.

?That?s good news for Baron & Budd and Korein Tillery?once they are done with atrazine, they have a lot of other moneymakers to go after.?

The law firms in their statement asserted that Syngenta, one of the makers of atrazine is boosting its efforts to sell the herbicide in the U.S. ?because it has been effectively banned in Europe.?

?I listen to a lot of ag radio and read a lot of ag publications, and I can?t remember the last time I heard or saw an ad for atrazine,? White said. ?It?s an ingredient in several herbicide products, but you just don?t see companies out there pushing atrazine on our farmers. Ads are focused on newer technologies. Farmers are already aware of atrazine because they have used it safely for years.?

City officials claim that their communities? drinking water is safe, but are seeking damages in a lawsuit that claims that atrazine at any level makes drinking water unsafe.

?Hillsboro and Marion are suing on the assumption that the drinking water is contaminated with atrazine,? White stated. ?The cities signed on to the lawsuit over drinking water contamination, but then say their water is safe. They are right, their water is safe because atrazine levels are far below the federal drinking water standard. So why are they in this lawsuit??

City administrators from both Hillsboro and Marion have said they joined the lawsuit in case the court rules having any atrazine in the drinking water is unsafe so they would have some funding assistance to add the expensive charcoal-filtration system needed to remove it entirely.

?My council was putting their faith in the court system,? said David Mayfield, city administrator for Marion.

Larry Paine, city adminstrator for Hillsboro, said, ?Our customers deserve the best (water) we can give them.?

?The fact that we?re passing through some atrazine (into the drinking water) doesn?t mean that it?s bad for the customer. It?s just not as good as it could be.

?My opinion on this is based on the question, ?What can I do for my water customer?? If I can do something to improve the water quality, I better be doing it.?

Editor?s note: The content of this article came from press statements issued by the two grower groups and the two law firms and from recent interviews with the city admninistrators from Marion and Hillsboro.

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