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Agri-Toxics Lobby Stop Pesticides Expert from Speaking in Minnesota

State cancels speech about frogs
Tom Meersman
Minneapolis Star Tribune
October 20, 2004

A scientist from the University of California, Berkeley, was to be keynote
speaker at an upcoming conference sponsored by the Minnesota Pollution
Control Agency. Then state officials learned the topic of his speech: his
latest research linking the herbicide atrazine to frog abnormalities.

Now, Prof. Tyrone Hayes has been uninvited -- by order of the agency's
commissioner.

Hayes, an endocrinologist who studies how chemicals affect amphibians, won't
address the annual environmental conference in February even though his
research is of particular interest in the state where schoolchildren
discovered frogs with extra legs and other deformities nine years ago.

Hayes said his removal from the program is an act of censorship by a state
agency bowing to agricultural interests and pesticide companies that don't
like his findings. "Initially, before the MPCA uninvited me, they asked if I
would remove the words 'atrazine' and 'pesticide' from the title of my talk,
and of course I refused to do that because that's what I work on," said
Hayes.

"My response was either you want me to talk or you don't," he said.

MPCA Commissioner Sheryl Corrigan said nobody is trying to keep Hayes'
message "out of the press or out of the mainstream." She said she wanted a
different speaker because Hayes presented some of his findings earlier this
year in Minnesota, and his research has received wide attention.

"When I looked at the stuff that he's talked about in the past, and his
research to date, I just didn't think it was keynote material," Corrigan
said.

E-mails between Hayes and an MPCA staffer, obtained by the Star Tribune,
tell a different story.

Hayes' contact was Jennifer Anthony-Powell, the agency's meeting planner and
coordinator for the three-day Minnesota air, water and waste conference. The
event, to be held in Bloomington, typically draws 1,100 people from industry
and government.

After being asked to give the keynote address, Hayes corresponded with
Anthony-Powell during August about the details of the conference. However,
on Sept. 27 Anthony-Powell sent Hayes an e-mail expressing the need to
"reassure management" about the keynote speech. "Politically speaking -- it
sounds like it is the atrazine that is causing some concern from other
agencies," she wrote.

She asked whether Hayes could make his title more general, because "I'm
thinking that might alleviate some of the political power plays going on."
She concluded, "I'm trying to stay ahead of the game so it doesn't get out
of hand."

Hayes asked by e-mail for more information about the concerns of MPCA
managers.

Anthony-Powell responded on Sept. 28: "Atrazine, atrazine, atrazine. This
isn't a Dept. of Ag. conference and they are thinking there is a possibility
that they are going to be attacked and not present to defend themselves."
Anthony-Powell said there was concern that Hayes' talk might become
"anti-government."

In an interview Tuesday, Anthony-Powell said that Wayne Anderson, an
official in the MPCA commissioner's office, had approached her and raised
these concerns. Anderson, who is the agency's liaison with the Minnesota
Agriculture Department, could not be reached for comment.

Hayes immediately responded to the Sept. 28 e-mail. He said that his data
had been published by top scientific journals. He acknowledged that he has
been critical of government approaches to pesticide regulations, and he
offered to share the keynote speech with government and industry
representatives.

Hayes, a professor in Berkeley's Department of Integrative Biology, said
that some of his latest research suggests new ways that pesticides,
including atrazine, may cause development problems in amphibians. "I will of
course talk about this because it is important ... and it seems the
government does not want people to know," he said in the e-mail.

On Sept. 29 MPCA officials called Hayes and withdrew the invitation to
speak.

Corrigan said that she did not consult with state agriculture officials
about Hayes' planned speech.

"My decision was not about agriculture," she said in a statement. "It was
not about Professor Hayes personally. It was all about having the right
keynote set the stage for this important conference."

Scientific understanding about atrazine's potential effects on frogs is a
work in progress. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials reviewed 17
studies on the topic in 2003, including two by Hayes and 12 funded by the
pesticide industry. They found insufficient data "to indicate that atrazine
will or will not cause adverse developmental effects in amphibians."

Corrigan added that Hayes is welcome to attend future conferences if he has
new data, but "from what I have been able to discern, his research today is
the same as it was in February 2004" when he gave a presentation on a panel
at the last MPCA conference. However, Corrigan said that she had not talked
with Hayes to ask him directly about his latest research.

Hayes said he intended to speak at the conference about some of the research
in four new papers that will be published soon in scientific journals. This
summer he did field work along areas of the Upper Mississippi River,
including in Wisconsin. He has also been studying the North Platte and
Missouri rivers, with a focus on examining the health of amphibians and
correlating it with pesticide levels in the water.

Hayes will discuss some of that work at a special legislative hearing before
the state Senate's Environment and Natural Resources committee on Monday.
His trip is being sponsored by the Minnesota Center for Environmental
Advocacy, a group that has been critical of pesticide use and regulation in
the state.

Meanwhile, the new keynote speaker for the MPCA conference hasn't been named.
http://www.startribune.com/stories/1556/5041489.html
Will Fantle
wfantle@sbcglobal.net