The quest for a perfectly manIcured lawn has driven some lawn care companies to create a grass resistant to weed killer. Some worry, however, that they've created an invasive species. (Photo by Philipp Pilz)
An environmental watchdog group is hoping to block federal approval of a new genetically modified type of grass. The group says the grass poses a threat to natural areas. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
An environmental watchdog group is hoping to block fedral approval of a new genetically
modified type of grass. The group says the grass poses a threat to natural areas. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
Two companies – Scotts and Monsanto – want the government’s approval to commercialize a type of
creeping bentgrass. The grass would mainly be planted on lawns and golf courses because it’s
resistant to Roundup, a popular weed killer. But critics of the bio-engineered grass say it
needs more testing. For one thing, they say, genes from the grass can spread and strengthen
Joe Mendelson is with the International Center for Technology Assessment.
“The end result is you’re going to create a grass that is invasive, that will take over natural
areas like our grasslands and or forest areas, and we won’t be able to control it. That’s going
to have a very negative impact on a number of sensitive ecosystems.”
The U.S. Forest Service has also weighed in, saying the grass has the potential to have a
negative effect on all of the country’s grasslands and natural forests. Scotts has said the
bio-engineered grass poses no threat to natural areas.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.
Corn growers in Michigan and Minnesota are waiting to find out whether they can use a new herbicide this spring. “Balance Pro” is used in 17 states, including several in the Great Lakes region (Indiana, Illinois, Ohio). But it’s not used in Minnesota, Michigan, or Wisconsin. Critics say Balance Pro gets into rivers and lakes too easily, and it could harm wildlife or even people. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Corn growers in Michigan and Minnesota are waiting to find out whether they can use a new
herbicide this spring. “Balance Pro” is used in 17 states, including several in the Great Lakes
region (Indiana, Illinois, Ohio). But it’s not used in Minnesota, Michigan, or Wisconsin. Critics say
Balance Pro gets into rivers and lakes too easily, and it could harm wildlife or even people. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Four years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave conditional approval for a new
weed-killer called Balance Pro. It’s made by a division of Bayer, the same company that makes
aspirin. But the EPA still had some worries.
EPA researchers thought the ingredients in Balance might accumulate in irrigation water. Some
people say, if it turns up in irrigation water, it could turn up in drinking water.
“Missouri has had drinking water reservoirs contaminated with this, and contaminated within the
first year of its use.”
Jannette Brimmer is with Minnesota Citizens for Environmental Advocacy. She worries that
Balance could turn into another environmental problem like atrazine. Atrazine is a commonly
used herbicide. It shows up in drinking water in many parts of the country, at very low levels.
Some studies show, even at those low levels, it’s causing deformities in the sexual organs of
frogs, which might be responsible for reductions in frog populations. And Brimmer wonders if
it might be affecting people too.
“In other words, small dosages at the wrong time in fetal development, pregnancy, in a kid, can
have significant impacts. So we have an opportunity to do the right thing before it gets into our
water, before it poses a health threat, before it’s a problem.”
The EPA doesn’t do any tests to find out whether herbicides affect the hormones of frogs or
people. The agency did conduct tests on the reproduction rates of aquatic animals, and found no
But the EPA does have one major concern — the effect Balance might have on other crops.
Officials worry if farmers use water polluted with Balance to irrigate crops like cabbage or
lettuce, the herbicide could hurt crop yields.
Both Michigan and Minnesota are trying to figure out how big a threat that might be. Dan
Stoddard, at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, has been watching the field studies from
other states. He says the results are mixed.
Some of the studies looked at how much Balance got into water supplies. They found lower
concentrations than scientists originally predicted.
But some regions are more vulnerable than others, depending on the type of soil. Dan Stoddard
says areas with coarse or sandy soil, or shallow bedrock, are especially vulnerable.
“What has been considered is some requirements that would restrict use of the product in those
areas. But nonetheless it does have the potential to get into groundwater. What we would
require is additional monitoring to see whether that is in fact happening.”
Stoddard says he’s weighing the risk of polluted water against the benefits Balance might offer.
He’s hearing from companies that have been applying Balance in other states. They say, by
adding the new product to their arsenal, they can cut down on their use of other herbicides.
“If somebody uses the same type of pesticide or herbicide over a few years, weeds can become
resistant and what they wind up having to do is increase the concentration of that product. So
having a new chemistry allows lower application rates of the product.”
Wisconsin recently approved the use of Balance. But the Wisconsin Agriculture Department
there imposed so many restrictions, the company decided not to market it in the state. Bob
Olson is a farmer, active in the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association. He says his state is
putting him at a disadvantage compared to other farmers.
“It’s been registered in 17 other corn states. It’s just not been able to be registered here in
Wisconsin because of what we think are undue concerns. And the fact that we can find it in
increasingly smaller quantities. Simply because you can find something, doesn’t mean that level
is ever going to affect anyone.”
Michigan and Minnesota are planning to decide in time for spring planting whether to let
farmers use Balance in their states.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.
The worldwide population decline in frogs and other amphibians has concerned scientists for many years, in part because when amphibians are threatened, other species are as well. A current study provides new insights into the factors that can make frogs more susceptible to disease. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Cindi Deutschman-Ruiz reports:
The worldwide population decline in frogs and other amphibians has concerned
scientists for many years, in part because when amphibians are threatened, other
species are as well. A current study provides new insights into the factors that can
make frogs more susceptible to disease. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Cindi
New research conducted by Penn State Ecologist Joseph Wiesecker indicates that
frogs face a much higher risk of developing severe limb deformities when exposed to
currently acceptable levels of two common farm chemicals… the weedkiller atrazine
and the insecticide malathion.
These chemicals lowered the immune response of frogs, which is why they became
more susceptible to disease. Wiesecker says understanding this susceptibility is key
to safeguarding not only amphibians but humans as well.
“The apparent increase in limb deformities over the last decade is part of a larger
issue, one that involves amphibians but also humans and other animals. And that is
the increase or prevalence of infectious disease.”
Wiesecker is now conducting a five-year regional study that will artificially create
environmental changes associated with human development, and chart their impact
on frogs and other wetland animals.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Cindi Deutschman-Ruiz.
A study by the Environmental Group says the water quality in 7 Great
Lakes States is polluted with the herbicide atrazine. The Washington
based organization says people living in those states are exposed to
high amounts of the chemical. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Tom Scheck reports, farm groups are protesting the study: