Water Health Educator
(c) Jason Zheng
Glyphosate in Water
by Marlena Bludzien
Glyphosate is the most widely used pesticide in the world. It was invented in 1960’s as a descaling agent to bind to metal ions and effectively clean industrial pipes and boilers. It was noticed later, during disposing of this chemical waste in the fields that glyphosate was also productively killing plants. In 1974 Monsanto patented and introduced glyphosate to the world as agricultural herbicide.
Today, glyphosate is present nearly everywhere in our food and water. According to CCM Information International report, about 650,000 tons of glyphosate was used throughout the world in year 2011. This number rose quickly in 2016 to 1.8 million tons used in America and 9.4 million tons used worldwide. Multiple studies showed high levels of the pesticide in human urine, and suggested the presence can induce endocrine disruptions and cause liver dysfunctions. In April 2014 Moms Across America conducted water testing which showed that nearly 70% of all American households were running water with above detectable glyphosate levels. The pesticide was also found in mothers’ breastmilk and urine. In addition, in March 2015 Agency for Research on Cancer declared glyphosate to be a “probable human carcinogen.” The level of glyphosate currently permitted in the US’ tap water is 700 ppb. In Europe, the permitted level in tap water is 0.1 ppb. The truth however, is that we don’t really know what the safe level of glyphosate ingestion really is. Some studies showed that even at levels of 0.1 ppb there is a severe organ damage and alteration of gene function in the liver and kidneys.
Herbicides such as glyphosate are known as environmental pollutants and are becoming a major problem to our safety. Considering that glyphosate can spread to aquatic environment by surface runoffs, leaching, drifts and drainage, the residues of this substance pose a real environmental hazard. Many studies have proved that Roundup is negatively affecting the non-target populations, and that its continues use will have a devastating effect on coastal marine phytoplankton. Vera et al. (2010) demonstrated adverse effects on phytoplankton and periphyton and the consequent worsening of fresh water quality. Other studies pointed out its harmful effects on zooplankton species (Vendrell et al. 2009). Roundup’s toxicity was further presented by Tsui and Chu, who demonstrated its implications on bacterium, microalgae, protozoa and crustaceans (2003). These are just a few examples of how science is desperately trying to prove that glyphosate is and will affect our ecosystem.
For long years, the industry has claimed that glyphosate is “even safer than table salt” and influenced the government regulations on the herbicide’s permissible levels in food and tap water.
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Germany’s Approach in Ending Glyphosate
by Jason Zheng
From the legacy of Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer and their genetically modified seeds, Bayer AG (OTCMKTS: BAYRY) continued to push forward with their acquisition. The US$ 63 billion merger came with a hefty burden. Prolonged Monsanto lawsuits and settlements became now Bayer AG’s issue. Bayer AG’s CEO Werner Baumann stated that the company will consider settling Monsanto’s glyphosate lawsuits depending on the legal costs, but they will defend against claims they cause cancer. The company denies glyphosate causes cancer and their statement is backed by decades of scientific studies and real-world usage of these chemicals prove to be safe for humans.
The European Union has some of the strictest laws regarding usage of pesticides. It is required for these types of products to be demonstrated that they are safe for usage, rather in some systems only requires the manufacturer to prove harm. Even with these strict regulations, harmful chemicals are still sliding under the rather due to inadequate testing. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) uses 12 pesticide risk-testing methods in determining if and how these chemical products can be use in the EU. However, 11 of these tests were either developed and promoted by the pesticide industry.
In 2016, the sales of glyphosate in Germany reached 3,780 tonnes, the lowest in 13 years. In the agreement signed between the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) and Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) conservative and the Social Democratic Party of Germany liberals, both parties agreed to end the usage of glyphosate “as soon as possible” in order to protect biodiversity. However, there is no known alternative to replace the controversial weed killer at the current moment. A full replacement is not possible, and users can opt for other weed killers in the market by changing the dosage and frequency, can still negatively impact biodiversity.
Recently, the Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety in Germany imposed tougher policies and to develop a plan in eliminating the reliance of glyphosate and similar products. By 2020, farmers are required to set aside 10 percent of their farmland to protect biodiversity if they want to still continue using glyphosate and similar herbicides. The Environmental Ministry plans to further limit the usage of glyphosate in ecologically sensitive areas and water protection zones. As well, a general rule will impose a restriction that the glyphosate related products within 20 meters of water.
These efforts were made because in 2017, EU member states voted to extend the license to use glyphosate for another five years, despite the resistance of other EU member states. After that, glyphosate may be phased out or ban by 2023. Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture has already made suggestions in banning weed killers in private gardens and parks.