After three years of research, the state was ready to impose the nation’s first water-quality limit for acetochlor, a potent farm chemical that was washing into rivers and lakes.

But after hearing from scientists from agribusiness giants Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) decided to allow more than twice the concentration of the chemical in rivers than it had originally proposed.

As a result, three of five rivers that the state had previously classified as “impaired” by acetochlor, including a popular trout stream in southeastern Minnesota, will no longer be considered polluted.

Explaining their change of heart, MPCA officials said industry scientists showed them six studies that persuaded the state that its original draft limit for acetochlor was too strict. Three of the scientists met with agency officials on Aug. 28, and they also testified at a public hearing.

The new standard for acetochlor was adopted last month.

“When we added that information and ran it through the process we came up with a different number,” said Marvin Hora, MPCA manager in charge of water assessment and environmental reporting. “That’s the way the process is supposed to work.”

Company officials say that even the new maximum level of acetochlor — 3.6 parts per billion in water — is unnecessary and scientifically unjustified. But some environmental advocacy groups question whether the MPCA gave favorable treatment to the pesticide makers.

They say pollution officials have been willing to meet with industry representatives to discuss acetochlor, atrazine and other pollutants such as mercury, but have not taken seriously enough other research suggesting that exposure to those compounds can cause ecological damage.

“It looks like there’s a double standard, that industry can come in and suggest changes without putting it up for new review and comment,” said Janette Brimmer, legal director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

Hora calls that accusation “a bunch of bull.” “We have met with all kinds of groups, and people come in and talk with us about [water quality] standards all the time,” he said.

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