Monday, June 13, 2011

US Researchers Find Glyphosate in Air and Water

Photo courtesy: IRRI Images via flickr

Mississippi and Iowa, two big farm states, were recently tested for glyphosate levels in the air and water. Researchers found the key ingredient of Monsanto's Roundup herbicide in every stream sample tested, Scientific American reports.

The magazine quotes Paul Capel, environmental chemist and head of the agricultural chemicals team at the U.S. Geological Survey Office, saying: "It is out there in significant levels. It is out there consistently."

But Capel said more tests were needed to determine how harmful the chemical, glyphosate, might be to people and animals.

However, while a politically-guided agency needs more tests—and probably more tests after that—to make a public statement regarding the health effects of the chemical, some people don't need tests to be sure what those effects are.

People like Viviana Peralta in San Jorge, Argentina. Peralta's baby daughter suffers acute asthma attacks every time a crop duster sprays herbicides and pesticides near her house, which sits in an agriculture-rich province 600 kilometers from Buenos Aires.

A Le Monde story tells of Peralta's experiences, saying that she eventually made the connection between her daughter's asthma attacks and the chemical sprayings—a suspicion that a pediatrician would later confirm. Glyphosate was found present in Ailen's blood.

Le Monde reports more about the town of San Jorge:
In San Jorge, cancer rates have spiked 30% in the past 10 years. Residents say that following a crop dusting, their lips turn blue and their tongues swell. Chickens die. Dogs and cats shed their hair. Bees disappear and birds become scarce.

And, the story continues, San Jorge is not alone:
In the province of Chaco, which borders Paraguay, a study carried out over the past 10 years in a town called La Leonesa suggests that cancer rates have tripled while the incidence of malformations has quadrupled. The situation has created tensions between residents and rice farmers, who use glyphosate and spray from airplanes...

Andres Carrasco, an embryologist from the University of Buenos Aires, published a study in late 2010 demonstrating the toxic effects glyphosate can have on amphibian embryos. His work has earned him no shortage of enemies. He was physically attacked on a visit to La Leonesa and the conference he was scheduled to give there was canceled.

Carrasco is quoted saying he hasn't even made any new discoveries. "I just confirmed what other scientists had already discovered. The scientific evidence is there. Above all, there are the hundreds of [ill and malformed] people who are the living proof of this health emergency."

Apparently, though, that scientific evidence is not enough for the U.S. Geological Survey Office, or any other federal government agency, to show much concern about the effects of glyphosate on public health, despite finding it in every water sample tested.

(To be clear, the EPA is reviewing the chemical, but more than 30 years into its use and with a deadline for a decision still years away, it's not exactly treating it with any urgency.)

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