It’s called Enlist Duo, a dangerous new combination of two of America’s favorite pesticides — glyphosate, widely known as Roundup, and 2,4-D, a World War II-era poison invented for chemical warfare.

Thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency’s fast-track approval process, the weedkiller is likely to soon come to Minnesota fields.

After the official comment period closes this Friday, the controversial pesticide — already approved last month for use in six Midwestern states and designed to be coupled with the next generation of herbicide-resistant corn and soybean crops — will be on track to be approved for use in 10 additional Midwestern and Great Plains states, from Arkansas to Minnesota.

The push to approve the use of the pesticide across the heartland comes as top scientists and a growing number of government agencies are increasingly acknowledging the mounting toll of pesticides, from the glyphosate that’s wiping out monarch caterpillars’ only food to the class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids linked to massive bee die-offs.

Just last month, Minnesota officials announced that they’re initiating a six-month review and a possible ban of “neonics,” which are already under an EPA review. New York, Oregon, Canada and Europe have all implemented bans or restrictions on the pesticides, and in August, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it would ban their use on all national wildlife refuges.

Against this newly evolving backdrop of increased caution, the EPA’s approval of Enlist Duo is troubling for two reasons.

First, although pesticide manufacturers herald Enlist Duo as a solution to the weed resistance now endemic to half of the states, history has conclusively shown that the chemical war on weeds always results in more weed resistance, ever-increasing pesticide use and more environmental harm.

Around 300 million pounds of glyphosate and 50 million pounds of 2,4-D are used in the United States annually. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Enlist Duo’s approval will increase 2,4-D’s use more than threefold within six years.

Next, although the EPA downplays the environmental and health risks of Enlist Duo, the agency has done minimal assessments of the risks associated with the 1 billion pounds of pesticides dumped on the nation’s fields, gardens and lawns every year.

The EPA last conducted a basic risk assessment of glyphosate in 1993. In the ensuing two decades, researchers have raised important questions about the pesticide’s potential health risks. This year, the Dutch government banned all nonagricultural uses of glyphosate, and countries in Europe and Latin America are considering bans.

Here’s what the Enlist Duo label warns about the pesticide’s potential to contaminate drinking water: “The use of this chemical in areas where soils are permeable, particularly where the water table is shallow, may result in groundwater contamination. Application around a cistern or well may result in contamination of drinking water or groundwater.”

Although scientists have documented pesticides drifting miles from where they’re applied and the EPA’s statistical models found that 5 percent of Enlist Duo could run off from agricultural fields into surrounding wildlife habitats, the EPA asserts that Enlist Duo will have “no effect” on endangered wildlife. Only by pretending runoff and pesticide drift won’t occur could the EPA approve use of Enlist Duo without first consulting with the Fish and Wildlife Service, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

By purposefully sidestepping this important protective step, the EPA is putting at risk over 20 endangered species in the Upper Midwest and the habitats we share with them, including a dozen species of freshwater mussels and the pallid sturgeon — the 6-foot-long freshwater behemoth that spawns only once every 10 years.

The evidence is overwhelming that neither wildlife, nor the rest of us, will benefit over the long haul from the EPA’s short-term, shortsighted “fix” — one that requires us to suspend logic and somehow believe that dumping more pesticides on the landscape will help us overcome the problems created by dumping more pesticides on the landscape.

 

Collette Adkins Giese is a Minneapolis-based attorney and scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, where her work focuses on pesticides and protecting imperiled amphibians and reptiles.