NORTHWEST COALITION FOR ALTERNATIVES TO PESTICIDES/NCAP, P. O. B O X 1 3 9 3, E U G E N E, O R E G O N JOURNAL OF PESTICIDE REFORM/ FALL 1998, VOL.18, NO. 3,
GLYPHOSATE (ROUNDUP) UPDATED 11/98 BY CAROLINE COX
Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide widely used to kill unwanted plants both in agriculture and in nonagricultural landscapes. Estimated use in the U.S. is between 38 and 48 million pounds per year. Most glyphosate-containing products are either made or used with a surfactant, chemicals that help glyphosate to penetrate plant cells.
Glyphosate-containing products are acutely toxic to animals, including humans. Symptoms include eye and skin irritation, headache, nausea, numbness, elevated blood pressure, and heart palpitations. The surfactant used in a common glyphosate product (Roundup) is more acutely toxic than glyphosate itself; the combination of the two is yet more toxic.
Given the marketing of glyphosate herbicides as benign, it is striking that laboratory studies have found diverse effects in all standard categories of laboratory toxicology testing. These include medium-term toxicity (salivary gland lesions), long-term toxicity (inflamed stomach linings), genetic damage (in human blood cells), effects on reproduction (reduced sperm counts in rats; increased frequency of abnormal sperm in rabbits), and carcinogenicity (increased frequency of liver tumors in male rats and thyroid cancer in female rats).
In studies of people (mostly farmers) exposed to glyphosate herbicides, exposure is associated with an increased risk of miscarriages, premature birth, and the cancer non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Glyphosate has been called "extremely persistent" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and half lives of over 100 days have been measured in field tests in Iowa and New York. Glyphosate has been found in streams following agricultural, urban, and forestry applications.
Glyphosate treatment has reduced populations of beneficial insects, birds, and small mammals by destroying vegetation on which they depend for food and shelter.
In laboratory tests, glyphosate increased plants' susceptibility to disease and reduced the growth of nitrogen-fixing bacteria.