Common Herbicide Could Be Causing Sexual Dysphoria: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Herbicide atrazine linked to feminization of frogs; 10 percent of males became fully viable females

Common Herbicide Could Be Causing Sexual Dysphoria: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Commonly used herbicide atrazine has been linked to demasculinization and forced feminization in frogs, raising concerns about exposure in humans. (ShutterStock)
Christy Prais

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. says that he thinks many of the causes of sexual dysphoria, particularly with boys, are coming from chemical exposure. In particular, he mentioned the widely used herbicide atrazine.

In the June 5 interview, Kennedy and Jordan B. Peterson and Kennedy discussed a wide range of topics including Kennedy's presidential bid. When the conversation turned to environmental issues, Kennedy noted that the "huge levels of depression" seen in today's kids, as well as "a lot of the sexual dysphoria that we're seeing," may be the result of toxic chemicals.

“These kids are swimming through a soup of toxic chemicals today, and many of those are endocrine disruptors,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said that one of the big issues is atrazine, which he says can be found "throughout our water supply.” He went on to reference a study in which male frogs were exposed to atrazine in a tank, leading to their chemical castration and forced feminization.

Even more concerning, he noted that the study found 10 percent of the male frogs turned into “fully viable females, able to produce viable eggs.”

“If it’s doing that to frogs, there’s a lot of other evidence that it's doing it to human beings as well,” Kennedy said.

YouTube has since taken the video of the interview down, claiming that it violates the platform's community guidelines. It is available on Rumble, however.

The Science

The study that Kennedy referred to was led by Tyrone B. Hayes, professor of integrative biology at the University of California–Berkeley. It was published in March 2010 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study noted that atrazine is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world, as well as the most commonly detected herbicide contaminant. It taints ground, surface, and drinking water and can travel via rainfall more than 620 miles from its application site.

The authors stressed that the herbicide is a potent endocrine disruptor, even at low levels. Previous studies showed adverse effects that included hermaphroditism, reduced testicular volume, and lowered testosterone.  The herbicide is also associated with both the demasculinization and feminization of male amphibians.

The study examined the long-term effects of atrazine on reproductive function in a genetically male population of African clawed frogs.

The male frogs were exposed to 2.5 parts per billion (ppb) of atrazine starting when they were tadpoles and continuing for up to three years after they metamorphosed into adults.

Ninety percent of the atrazine-exposed males appeared male, but suffered from depressed testosterone, decreased breeding gland size, decreased sperm production, feminized laryngeal (vocal) development, suppressed mating behavior, reduced spermatogenesis, and decreased fertility.

Functionally Female Frogs

Significantly, after exposure to atrazine, 10 percent of the genetic males developed into fully functional females with ovaries and viable eggs.

Two of the male-turned-female frogs were mated with control males and produced offspring. Further testing confirmed that these atrazine-exposed male frogs, although now functionally female (having undergone complete feminization) were, in fact, still chromosomal males.

In a 2018 keynote presentation, Hayes explained that exposure to atrazine induces the activation of an enzyme called aromatase. That enzyme converts androgens, which are involved in male sexual development, to different forms of the female hormone estrogen. In the atrazine-exposed frogs, aromatase converted testosterone into estrogen, leading to the feminization of male frogs.
According to Hayes, mammals—including humans—will not have the same extreme egg-producing reaction as some reptiles and amphibians do when exposed to atrazine. However, he noted that aromatase induced by atrazine exposure promotes breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Big Pharma, Big Herbicides

In fact, aromatase is so important as a cause of breast cancer that one of the leading treatments for breast cancer is a nonsteroidal aromatase inhibitor called Letrozole, Hayes said.
The developer of Letrozole is pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG.
Interestingly, in a 2003 toxicological profile, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) lists Novartis Crop Protection Inc. as one of six companies registered to produce products (pdf) containing atrazine.
Novartis Crop Protection was an affiliate of Novartis AG.  In 2000, Novartis spun off its Crop Protection and Seeds sectors, merging them with AstraZeneca Agrochemicals to form Syngenta. Today, Syngenta is the chief manufacturer of atrazine, according to the Center for Food Safety. Syngenta was acquired by ChemChina in 2017.
Another study that Hayes mentioned in his presentation was published in Environmental Health Perspectives in 1997. It found that Kentucky women who were exposed to well water with medium to high levels of atrazine had a statistically significant increase in breast cancer risk, as compared with women who did not drink the contaminated well water.

The study notes that “the results suggest a relationship between exposure to triazine herbicides and increased breast cancer risk, but conclusions concerning causality cannot be drawn, due to the limitations inherent in ecologic study design.”

Per the EPA's website, atrazine is chemically related to two other herbicides, simazine and propazine, which together are called triazines.

Hayes emphasized that his study was not a singular study, but rather a comprehensive body of research.

In fact, 22 independent researchers from several different countries have examined the effects of atrazine exposure on various species including fish, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and birds.

These studies consistently reported similar findings, including the absence of sperm production, demasculinization, and feminization as a result of atrazine exposure, he said.

The 22 scientists consolidated their data, publishing it in a paper titled “Demasculinization and Feminization of Male Gonads by Atrazine: Consistent Effects Across Vertebrate Classes” in October 2011 in The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Known Harms Reported by US Agencies

In 2003, seven years before the study by Hayes, a detailed toxicological profile of atrazine (pdf) was issued by the ATSDR, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The report cited studies indicating that atrazine affects health in several ways: “One of the primary ways that atrazine can affect your health is by altering the way that the reproductive system works.

"Atrazine has been shown to cause changes in blood hormone levels in animals that affected the ability to reproduce. Some of the specific effects observed in animals are not likely to occur in humans because of biological differences between humans and these types of animals. However, atrazine may affect the reproductive system in humans by a different mechanism.

“Atrazine also caused liver, kidney, and heart damage in animals; it is possible that atrazine could cause these effects in humans.” However, the report stated that this possibility had not been studied.

72 Million Pounds a Year

The report noted the widespread use of atrazine in the United States, although it is a restricted-use herbicide, meaning that it is not available to the general public.

An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) memorandum on the use of atrazine, published in July 2022, noted that the herbicide is registered for use in agricultural crops, including field corn, sweet corn, sorghum, sugarcane, macadamia nuts, and guava. It is also registered for non-agricultural uses, such as in nursery or ornamental plantings, turf, and rights-of-way (excluding roadsides). The memo noted that field corn, sweet corn, sorghum, and sugarcane are the most important agricultural use sites for the chemical.

Between 2013 and 2017, an annual average of 72 million pounds of atrazine was used in agriculture.

The ATSDR report stated that atrazine has the potential to be carried through the air or be washed away from the soil by rain, ultimately finding its way into nearby streams, lakes, and other waterways. Moreover, it can penetrate deeper layers of soil and contaminate groundwater. Additionally, plants growing in these areas can absorb atrazine.

Once atrazine enters streams, waterways, or groundwater, it tends to persist for extended periods because of its slow breakdown in water.

According to a June 2023 Market Watch report, the global atrazine market size was estimated to be worth $1.917 billion in 2022. It's forecast to grow to $2.343 billion by 2028.

EPA's 2021 Biological Evaluation

In November 2021, the EPA issued the finalized version of its Biological Evaluation of the herbicides atrazine, glyphosate, and simazine, examining the potential risks to endangered and threatened species from these herbicides.
The assessment was conducted as part of a legal agreement between the Center for Biological Diversity and the EPA.

The evaluation found that all three herbicides are "likely to adversely affect" species listed under the Endangered Species Act, or their designated habitats.

The EPA announced in 2021 that atrazine and simazine are prohibited in Hawaii, Alaska, and the U.S. territories.

Additionally, atrazine will no longer be used “on roadsides, Conservation Reserve Program land, conifers, including Christmas tree plantings, timber and forestry areas, and miscanthus and other perennial bioenergy crops," according to the EPA release.

A Syngenta representative, responding to questions from The Epoch Times, said that the herbicide was primarily used to control weeds in corn, sorghum, and sugar cane crops.

"Herbicides are crucial tools for helping farmers manage weeds and significantly increase crop yields while decreasing the amount of tillage, which prevents soil erosion and greenhouse gas emissions, and improves water and wildlife habitat," the representative said.

"Atrazine has been extensively studied over the past 50 years. Nearly 7,000 studies have concluded it is safe for humans and the environment and it has been approved by international organizations and governments around the world.”

In a TEDx talk posted to YouTube in 2018, Hayes details internal documents from Syngenta that explicitly state a goal to discredit him.
Christy A. Prais received her business degree from Florida International University. She is the founder and host of Discovering True Health, a YouTube channel and podcast dedicated to health and wellness. Prais also serves on the advisory board at the Fostering Care Healing School. She is a contributing journalist for The Epoch Times.