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The prestigious medical journal The Lancet recently released a report by its Commission On Pollution and Health on the effects of various types of pollution (water, air, occupational, chemical, etc) on people and world economies - that is, the effect of pollution on "global health". The main finding: Diseases caused by pollution were responsible in 2015 for an estimated 9 million premature deaths -- 16 percent of all deaths worldwide. Pollution is now known to cause a wide variety of diseases and health problems, including asthma, cancer, neurodevelopmental disorders, and birth defects in children; and heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cancer in adults. The list of health effects keeps increasing. [See all posts on pollution.]

The report states that certain types of pollution are increasing throughout the world - air, chemical, and soil pollution.They also discuss new and emerging pollutants (most of them chemical pollutants) whose effects on human health
are not yet fully understood, yet they are widely found in the environment and detected in most humans. The authors of the report even say: "At least some of these chemical pollutants appear to have potential to cause global epidemics of disease, disability, and death."

Chemical pollutants include: developmental neurotoxicants (e.g. pesticides, lead, mercury), endocrine disruptors (which have reproductive effects and can alter fertility), new classes of pesticides such as the neonicotinoids, chemical herbicides such as glyphosate (found in Roundup and the most commonly used pesticide in the world), nano-particles, and pharmaceutical wastes.

While most deaths from all sorts of pollution are currently occurring in poorer developing countries (e.g. China and India), we in the United States also have health effects and deaths from pollution - just not on the scale of those countries. Also, remember that winds carry pollutants globally - so that air pollution in China will cross the Pacific Ocean on the winds to the US.

Everyone agrees that taking action works - think of the success in banning lead, asbestos, and DDT in the United States. And amounts of six common air pollutants have been reduced by about 70% since passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970. We can thank laws, and organizations established due to environmental problems and crises in the past (e.g. the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Superfund legislation, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act) for that.

From Science Daily: Pollution responsible for 16 percent of early deaths globally

Diseases caused by pollution were responsible in 2015 for an estimated 9 million premature deaths -- 16 percent of all deaths worldwide, according to a report. Simon Fraser University health sciences professor Bruce Lanphear is a Commissioner and author of The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health that has released a report detailing the adverse effects of pollution on global health. ...."Pollution, which is at the root of many diseases and disorders that plague humankind, is entirely preventable." 

Commission findings include: - Pollution causes 16% of all deaths globally. Diseases caused by pollution were responsible in 2015 for an estimated 9 million premature deaths -- 16% of all deaths worldwide -- three times more deaths than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined; and fifteen times more than all wars and other forms of violence. It kills more people than smoking, hunger and natural disasters. In some countries, it accounts for one in four deaths. - Pollution disproportionately kills the poor and the vulnerable. Nearly 92% of pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Within countries, pollution's toll is greatest in poor and marginalized communities. Children face the highest risks because small exposures to chemicals in utero and in early childhood can result in lifelong disease and, disability, premature death, as well as reduced learning and earning potential. - Pollution is closely tied to climate change and biodiversity. Fossil fuel combustion in higher-income countries and the burning of biomass in lower-income countries accounts for 85% of airborne particulate pollution. Major emitters of carbon dioxide are coal-fired power plants, chemical producers, mining operations, and vehicles.

A few excerpts (lead & pesticides) from the report in The Lancet: The Lancet Commission on pollution and health

Another example of the economic benefits of addressing pollution is seen in the consequences of removing lead from gasoline in the USA. This intervention began in 1975 and, within a decade, had reduced the mean blood concentration of lead in the population by more than 90%, almost eliminated childhood lead poisoning, and increased the cognitive capacity of all American children born since 1980 by 2–5 IQ points. This gain in intelligence has increased national economic productivity and will yield an economic benefit of US$200 billion (range $110 billion–300 billion) over the lifetimes of each annual cohort of children born since 1980, an aggregate benefit to-date of over $6 trillion.

Developmental neurotoxicants: Evidence is strong that widely used chemicals and pesticides have been responsible for injury to the brains of millions of children and have resulted in a global pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity. The manifestations of exposure to these chemicals during early development include loss of cognition, shortening of attention span, impairment of executive function, behavioural disorders, increased prevalence of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, dyslexia, and autism.

Pesticides: More than 20,000 commercial pesticide products, including insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and rodenticides are available on world markets. More than 1.1 billion pounds of these products are used in the USA each year and an estimated 5.2 billion pounds globally. ....The organophosphate insecticides are a large and widely used class of pesticides. Members of this class of chemicals are powerful developmental neurotoxicantsand prenatal exposures are associated with persistent deleterious effects on children’s cognitive and behavioural function and with long-term, potentially irreversible, changes to brain structure that are evident on MRI. 

Chemical herbicides account for nearly 40% of global pesticide use and applications are increasing. A major use is in production of genetically modified food crops engineered to be resistant to glyphosate (Roundup), the world’s most widely used herbicide. Glyphosate-resistant, so-called “Roundup Ready” crops, now account for more than 90% of all corn and soybeans planted in the USA, and their use is growing globally. Glyphosate is widely detected in air and water in agricultural areas, and glyphosate residues are detected in commonly consumed foods.

Once again the controversial herbicide (weed killer) glyphosate is in the news. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup (manufactured by Monsanto), and is the most commonly used pesticide in the world. Its use is increasing annually since the introduction of genetically modified crops that are tolerant of glyphosate being sprayed on them (Roundup Ready crops), and since the use of "preharvest" applications of Roundup. Over the years the US government has generally NOT been tracking how much glyphosate residues are in the foods we eat, but whenever a food is studied for glyphosate residues - they are found. (see all posts) Which means people are constantly ingesting low levels of glyphosate residues.

But what does that mean for humans? A  recently published study of 100 adults over the age of 50, residing in Southern California, and followed from 1993 to 2016, looked at detectable glyphosate and its metabolite aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) residues in urine. They found that the number of people with detectable residues in urine, and also the actual levels found in the urine, really, really increased in the 23 years. The percentage of people who tested positive for glyphosate shot up by 500% in that time period - from 12 percent of the samples to 70 percent. WOW!

Are there health effects from constant ingestion in food from low levels of glyphosate? We don't know, because the studies on humans have not been done. There are a number of health concerns, including that it is a carcinogen (it has been classified as a "probable carcinogen" by some agencies), liver and kidney damage, that it acts as an antibiotic and disrupts the gut microbiome, and endocrine disruption. The researchers of this study are especially concerned about possible glyphosate health effects on the liver (liver disease), based on animal studies (animals exposed chronically to very low levels), and want to research this further.

However, the EPA keeps insisting it's safe (and to please ignore the conflicts and deals done with Monsanto in recent years), and actually raised the levels allowed in 2013 (due to corporate lobbying). Also, glyphosate is still not monitored by the Department of Agriculture's pesticide data program or the CDC's (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) monitoring program of human exposure to environmental chemicals.

What can you do? Try to eat as many organic foods as possible because glyphosate (and Roundup) are not allowed to be used in organic farming. And don't use Roundup on your own property - because you can be exposed to it numerous ways (drinking and eating it in food, inhalation, through the skin).

From Medical Xpress: US study finds rise in human glyphosate levels

Levels of glyphosate, a controversial chemical found in herbicides, markedly increased in the bodies of a sample population over two decades, a study published Tuesday in a US medical journal said. The increase dated from the introduction of genetically-modified glyphosate-tolerant crops in the United States in 1994.

Researchers compared the levels of glyphosate in the urine of 100 people living in California. It covered a 23-year period starting from 1993, the year before the introduction of genetically-modified crops tolerant to Roundup. Glyphosate-containing Roundup, produced by US agro giant Monsanto, is one of the world's most widely-used weedkillers.

"Prior to the introduction of genetically modified foods, very few people had detectable levels of glyphosate," said Paul Mills, of the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine, the study's principal author. Among the study group, detectable amounts increased from an average of 0.20 micrograms per liter in 1993-1996 to an average of 0.45 micrograms in 2014-2016.

In July, California listed glyphosate as carcinogenic, and the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer called it "probably carcinogenic" in 2015. There are few human studies on the effects of glyphosate, but research on animals demonstrated that chronic exposure can have adverse effects, said Mills. Along with the European Commission's proposal on Tuesday, the European Parliament approved a non-binding resolution calling for the chemical to be banned by 2022.

Excerpts from Consumer Reports: We May Be Consuming More Glyphosate Than Ever Before

A 2016 report in the journal Environmental Health that looked at human and animal studies found a link between glyphosate exposure and a number of health problems, including liver and kidney damage, endocrine disruption, and an elevated risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. But a vast majority of those studies were done with animals.

In fact, very few human studies have been done on the health effects of glyphosate, and no federal agency monitors how much of the chemical makes it from the environment into our bodies. That lack of information makes it difficult to even begin to assess how much glyphosate is potentially harmful to humans and whether current exposure levels are above or below that mark.

Once again a study finds that pesticide exposure is linked to an adverse health effect - that pesticide exposure in the home during pregnancy and early childhood is linked to an elevated risk of brain tumor in the child. Other studies have also found that pesticides used in the home are associated with a higher risk of childhood cancers.

This is because pesticides do cross the placental barrier, as the study researchers point out: "There is evidence that pesticides cross the fetal-placental barrier since residues of some insecticides have been found in umbilical cord blood, neonatal hair, and meconium following maternal exposure during pregnancy." Also, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified "more than twenty pesticide chemical compounds as potential human carcinogens".

The following are examples (but there are more) of other studies finding pesticide and childhood cancer links: A meta-analysis published in 2015 in Pediatrics by researchers at Harvard University found that children exposed to indoor insecticides (also herbicides) have a higher risk of certain childhood cancers, specifically leukemia, lymphomas, and brain tumors. A 2013 study published in Cancer Causes and Control found that professional pest control applications in the home within a year of conception and during pregnancy was associated with a higher risk of childhood brain tumors. A review of studies published in 2010 found that pesticide exposure during pregnancy and childhood increased the risk of childhood leukemia.

The good news is that there are alternatives to exposing fetuses and children to toxic pesticides at home - by using alternative ways of dealing with pests, such as least toxic Integrated Pest Management (IPM) or organic methods. That means doing other things (such as sealing or caulking holes, putting out traps and baits, vacuuming), a focus on least toxic methods and on prevention (here and here), rather than routinely applying toxic pesticides. If needed, least toxic pesticides include boric acid and vinegar. Other sources of pesticide exposure for pregnant women and children are foods and exposure in settings outside the home - perhaps even a friend's yard. By the way, pesticide exposure for everyone is linked to a higher risk of health problems, not just pregnant women and children.

From Science Daily: Pesticide use during pregnancy linked to increased risk of childhood brain tumors

Previous epidemiological studies have suggested that exposure to pesticides during pregnancy may have a possible role in the development of childhood brain tumors. In a new International Journal of Cancer analysis, researchers found a link between maternal residential pesticide use -- particularly insecticides -- and the risk of childhood brain tumorsThe analysis included 437 malignant childhood brain tumor cases and 3102 controls from two French studies. Pesticide use was associated with a 1.4-times increased risk of childhood brain tumors.

The investigators noted that many pesticide compounds are classified as probable carcinogens, and there is evidence that some insecticides can pass through the feto-placental barrier. "Although such retrospective studies cannot identify specific chemicals used or quantify the exposure, our findings add another reason to advise mothers to limit their exposure to pesticides around the time of pregnancy," said Nicolas Vidart d'Egurbide Bagazgoïtia, lead author of the study. [Original study.]

Two recent studies, both done in California, looked at different aspects of pesticide exposure. They highlight how people can be exposed to pesticides in the air they breathe, especially if they live in areas where pesticides are heavily applied (such as farms). But keep in mind that even in suburbia, every time a neighbor applies pesticides on the lawn or trees - there is drift, and so you are also exposed (e.g., breathing it, droplets on the skin).

The first study found that pregnant women with high pesticide exposure (living in areas near farms using pesticides) had increases in adverse birth outcomes (low birth weight, shorter pregnancy length, preterm birth, birth defects or abnormalities). No effects were seen with low pesticide exposure. But note that these results are what could be seen at birth - they do not include effects that can only be seen later, such as delayed development, learning disabilities, lower intelligence, asthma, autism - all effects found in some studies.

The other was a California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) 2016 report on air monitoring results (from 6 sites) of 32 chemicals (pesticides and breakdown products) in California. Some pesticides were not detected, some were only at trace amounts, and some were detected at higher amounts  - and the amounts fluctuated over the year and from site to site. [NOTE: They did not monitor for 2 widely used pesticides: glyphosate, which is in Roundup, and 2,4-D. Hmm...]. A Kern County high school monitoring site showed levels of the pesticide chlorpyrifos more than 18 times higher than EPA's "level of concern for pregnant women" - but yet these levels are considered OK for the general public.

Chlorpyrifos is "controversial" in that scientists (including EPA scientists), medical professionals, and farmworker organiztions asked that its use be banned due to its serious health effects on humans, but this year EPA chief Scott Pruitt refused to do so (he gave in to pesticide industry lobbying). The bottom lineWhat effect do the mixtures of pesticides (at chronic low levels) that we're exposed to have on us? Unknown. 

From Medical Xpress: Researchers unravel the negative effects of pesticide exposure on birth outcomes

Although common opinion holds that exposure to pesticides increases adverse birth outcomes, the existing body of scientific evidence is ambiguous..... A new study by researchers at UC Santa Barbara addresses the issue in a novel way—by analyzing birth outcomes in California's San Joaquin Valley. With more than one-third of the country's vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts produced there, the San Joaquin Valley, not surprisingly, is a heavy pesticide-use region. The UCSB team investigated the effect of exposure during pregnancy in this agriculturally dominated area and observed an increase in adverse outcomes accompanying very high levels of pesticide exposure

"For the majority of births, there is no statistically identifiable impact of pesticide exposure on birth outcome," said lead author Ashley Larsen, an assistant professor in UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. "Yet mothers exposed to extreme levels of pesticides, defined here as the top 5 percent of the pesticide exposure distribution, experienced between 5 and 9 percent increases in the probability of adverse outcomes with an approximately 13-gram decrease in birth weight."

Using individual birth certificate records for more than 500,000 single births between 1997 and 2011, coupled with pesticide use data at a fine spatial and temporal scale, the scientists were able to determine if residential agricultural pesticide exposure during gestation—by trimester and by toxicity—influenced birth weight, gestational length or birth abnormalities.

They found negative effects of pesticide exposure for all birth outcomes—birth weight, low birth weight, gestational length, preterm birth, birth abnormalities—but only for mothers exposed to very high levels of pesticides—the top 5 percent of the exposure distribution in this sample.... Numerous chemicals are used daily in close proximity to residential areas, making it difficult to ascertain a specific responsible agent. As a result, in this study, the researchers looked at the combined results from all pesticides used in the region[Original study.]

Excerpts from Beyond Pesticides: Neurotoxic Pesticide Detected in Air at High Levels in California County

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) released its 2016 air monitoring data where it was revealed that chlorpyrifos air concentrations for a one-month period at the air monitoring site on the campus of Shafter High School in Kern County was 39.4 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3) – more than 18 times higher than EPA’s level of concern for pregnant women (2.1 ng/m3).  Shafter High School is some distance from fields in an area where chlorpyrifos use is not as high as in other parts of Kern County or elsewhere in California. 

High chlorpyrifos levels at a school means that children and unsuspecting teachers and parents, especially those that may be pregnant, are breathing in unusually high levels of chlorpyrifos. Children exposed to high levels of chlorpyrifos have developmental delays, attention problems, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder problems, and pervasive developmental disorders.

Once again a study (this time a review and meta-analysis of other studies) found an alarming and steep decline in sperm counts in men from Western countries over a 40 year period. This steep decline for both sperm concentration (SC) and total sperm count (TSC) is for men in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. The sperm count and sperm concentration declined 50 to 60% in the period between 1973 to 2011 - with a downward slope showing a decline of -1.4% to -1.6% per year. On the other hand, men from South America, Asia and Africa did not show a decline.

The authors of the study were very concerned over the results showing this decline in Western countries, with no evidence of the decline leveling off. As these declines continue, more and more men will have sperm counts below the point at which they can reproduce. Instead they will be infertile or "sub-fertile" (with a decreased probability of conceiving a child). The threshold level associated with a "decreased monthly probability of conception" is considered to be 40 million/ml. Shockingly - this study found that in 1973 when Western men who were not selected for fertility, and didn't know their fertility status (e.g., college students, men screened for the military) - the average sperm concentration was 99 million/ml, but by 2011 it was 47.1 million/ml. These men were called "unselected" and are likely to be representative of men in the general population. Men known to be fertile (e.g., had fathered a child) were at 83.8 million/ml in 1976, but were down to 62.0 million/ml in 2011. Both groups had consistent declines year after year.

What about the men from South America, Asia, and Africa? There, studies showed that the "unselected" men (not selected for fertility and who didn't know their fertility status) started out at 72.7 million/ml in 1983, and were at 62.6 million/ml in 2011, while men known to be fertile started out on average at 66.4 million/ml in 1978 and were at 75.7 million/ml in 2011. They did not show the decline of the North American, European, Australian, and New Zealand group of men.

What does this mean? And what is going on? These results go beyond fertility and reproduction. The decline is consistent with other male reproductive health indicators over the last few decades: higher incidence of testicular cancer, higher rates of cryptorchidism, earlier onset of male puberty, and decline in average testosterone levels. Instead, it appears that sperm counts of men are "the canary in the mine" for male health - evidence of harm to men from environmental and lifestyle influences. These Western developed countries are awash in chemicals and plastics, also with endocrine disruptors (hormone disruptors) in our foods, our personal care products, etc - and so studies find these chemicals in all of us (in varying degrees). Same with flame retardants, pesticides, "scented" products. Exposure to all sorts of environmental pollutants - whether in air, water, soil, our food - such as high levels of aluminum. All of these can have an effect on sperm counts and reproductive health. And note that chemicals that can depress sperm counts  are also linked to many health problems, including chronic diseases.

What can I do?  You can lower your exposure to many chemicals (e.g., pesticides), plastics, and endocrine disruptors, but you can't avoid them totally. Yes, it'll mean reading labels and ingredient lists on foods, personal care products (such as soaps, shampoo, lotion), and products used in the home. TRY TO AVOID OR LOWER EXPOSURE TO: phthalates, parabens, BPA, BPS, and even BPA-free labeled products (all use similar chemicals), flame-retardants (e.g., in upholstered furniture and rugs), stain-resistant, dirt-resistant, waterproof coatings, Scotchgard, non-stick cookware coatings, dryer sheets, scented products (including scented candles and air fresheners), fragrances, pesticides in the yard and home, and "odor-free", antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-mildew products. Don't microwave foods in plastic containers (including microwave popcorn bags). 

INSTEAD: Try to eat more organic foods, look for organic or least-toxic Integrated Pest Management (IPM) alternatives for the home and garden. Store foods as much as possible in glass, ceramic, or stainless steel containers. Buy foods, if possible, that are in glass bottles - not cans (all lined with endocrine disrupting chemicals) and not plastic bottles or containers (plastics leach). Some people use water filters because there are so many contaminants in our water, even if they meet federal guidelines on "allowable levels" in the water. Avoid cigarette smoke or smoking. Try to lose weight if overweight. Open windows now and then in your residence to lower indoor air pollution. The list is long - yes, a lifestyle change! (see posts on ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS, FLAME RETARDANTS, and PESTICIDES)

From Medical Xpress: Study shows a significant ongoing decline in sperm counts of Western men

In the first systematic review and meta-analysis of trends in sperm count, researchers from the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai report a significant decline in sperm concentration and total sperm count among men from Western countries.

By screening 7,500 studies and conducting a meta-regression analysis on 185 studies between 1973 and 2011, the researchers found a 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration, and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count, among men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand who were not selected based on their fertility status. In contrast, no significant decline was seen in South America, Asia and Africa, where far fewer studies have been conducted. The study also indicates the rate of decline among Western men is not decreasing: the slope was steep and significant even when analysis was restricted to studies with sample collection between 1996 and 2011.

The findings have important public health implications. First, these data demonstrate that the proportion of men with sperm counts below the threshold for subfertility or infertility is increasing. Moreover, given the findings from recent studies that reduced sperm count is related to increased morbidity and mortality, the ongoing decline points to serious risks to male fertility and health.

"Decreasing sperm count has been of great concern since it was first reported twenty-five years ago. This definitive study shows, for the first time, that this decline is strong and continuing. The fact that the decline is seen in Western countries strongly suggests that chemicals in commerce are playing a causal role in this trend," Dr. Shanna H Swan, a professor in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

While the current study did not examine causes of the observed declines, sperm count has previously been plausibly associated with environmental and lifestyle influences, including prenatal chemical exposure, adult pesticide exposure, smoking, stress and obesity. Therefore, sperm count may sensitively reflect the impact of the modern environment on male health across the lifespan and serve as a "canary in the coal mine" signaling broader risks to male health. [Original study.]

  Human sperm. Credit: Wikipedia

 News about the controversial pesticide Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate just keep coming. Roundup is the most heavily used pesticide in the world, and it is used as a herbicide or weed-killer throughout the USA. Its use is rapidly rising, especially due to its use for preharvest applications on crops, and for genetically modified Roundup Ready crops. The chemical giant Monsanto (manufacturer of Roundup) insists that Roundup is safe for humans and the environment, but studies are indicating otherwise (see posts on Roundup). And yes, the pesticide and its residues are found wherever its presence is looked for. So one very important question is: If this heavily used pesticide is found in the foods we eat, and is around us (thus we have chronic low levels of exposure), what is it doing to us, if anything? 

This month the results of a study of 69 pregnant women receiving prenatal care at an Indiana obstetric practice was presented at a Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN) conference. The researchers reported that they found the presence of glyphosate and its breakdown products (aminomethylphosphonic acid or AMPA) in the urine of 91% of pregnant women. They found that higher levels of glyphosate were associated with lower than average birth weights and shorter pregnancy length (gestation age). Also, women living in rural areas had higher average glyphosate levels than women in urban/suburban regions. The researches suggested that it was because the rural women lived close to corn and soybean fields where glyphosate is heavily used.

The researchers also pointed out that this is especially worrisome because low birth weights and shortened pregnancy length (gestation) are seen as risk factors for many health and neurodevelopmental problems over the course of an individual’s life - lower cognitive abilities (including IQ), diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. Of course the researchers plan to expand this research on more women.

But unfortunately US government agencies such as the FDA are not testing for the presence of glyphosate residues in foods (a major way we are exposed to glyphosate), even though they test for many other pesticides. So testing for the most heavily used pesticide in the world  in foods is deliberately not being done! It doesn't matter whether one thinks that Roundup (glyphosate) is harmful or not - we should know what foods this pesticide in the world appears in and at what levels. So far, whatever conventional foods are looked at, glyphosate residues are found. Even foods that one does not expect it in, such as honey. On the other hand, organic foods or crops are not allowed to use Roundup or glyphosate, so eating organic foods is the only way to avoid the pesticide. And of course, by not using Roundup or other glyphosate products on the property where you live.

The researchers and CEHN (Children’s Environmental Health Network) have put together a web-site documenting the increase in Roundup (glyphosate) use in the United States in the past few decades and why we should be concerned. There are many links at the thorough and well-researched site. If one looks at only a few pages, then look at the introduction page - The Project, the Birth Outcomes section, and the Biomonitoring Data page - which discusses "biomonitoring" to track levels of chemicals such as pesticides in human urine and blood, and why we should be concerned. They also discuss 2,4-D - another popular pesticide (herbicide or weed-killer), which is also used in many lawn "weed and feed" products. 2.4-D has serious health concerns, but its use is also rapidly increasing on farms due the increase in genetically modified crops (which allow it to be sprayed on crops without killing the crops).

Bottom line: We are being exposed to chronic low levels of pesticides in our environment and foods - and we really don't know what this is doing to us. We don't even know the extent of our exposures because it is not being measured. This is especially worrisome because our exposure to some of these pesticides is rapidly increasing.

From the investigative journalism site FERN: Researchers find glyphosate in pregnant women, worry about impact on infants

A team of scientists this week released early results of an ongoing study spotlighting concerns about the rising use of pesticides and reproductive risks to women and children. The researchers tested and tracked, over a period of two years, the presence of the common herbicide glyphosate in the urine of 69 expectant mothers in Indiana.

The team – led by Paul Winchester, medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit at the Franciscan St. Francis Health System and professor of clinical pediatrics at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Ind. – found glyphosate residues in 91 percent of the women, and high levels of those residues appeared to correlate with shortened pregnancies and below-average birth weights adjusted for age. The findings alarmed the researchers because such babies are at increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and lower cognitive abilities. “Gestational age maximizes the size of your brain at birth, and any shortening is essentially a reduction of IQ points,” Winchester said in an interview with FERN’s Ag Insider. “It has not just health, but lifetime achievement implications.”

This is the first time that anyone has demonstrated glyphosate is present in pregnant women in the U.S., according to Winchester. However, the results were limited by a small sample size. He and his colleagues plan to submit their research to a peer-reviewed journal within the month and they hope to expand the study later this year. “The fact that we were able to find adverse effects on the small number of people we measured would imply a larger study is needed immediately to find out if this is prevalent everywhere,” Winchester says. “This is a critical piece of information that I think people should be concerned about.”

Glyphosate is the world’s most popular herbicide and the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer. Globally, 9.4 million tons of glyphosate have been sprayed on crops, lawns, and gardens since the chemical was released on the market in 1974....Currently, concerns about the safety of glyphosate are at the center of a major national lawsuit. Monsanto is being sued by hundreds of U.S. consumers who say the company did not warn them, despite evidence, that the chemical can cause cancers such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood disease. A key piece of testimony in the suit is a 2015 International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report stating that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Monsanto contests the listing, citing rulings by the EPA, the European Chemicals Agency, and the European Food Safety Authority that did not find cancer risks.

Winchester has long studied the risks posed by agrochemicals, finding in a 2009 study that high levels of the farming chemical atrazine in water was associated with increased risk of genital birth defects in children. In the glyphosate study, Winchester and his colleagues considered whether water might again be the exposure route for the pregnant women they monitored. After testing water samples, the scientists concluded that it was not the source. They suspect diet may play a role. The Food and Drug Administration, however, recently suspended the testing of glyphosate residues in food, citing the need for improved validation methods.

Experts say the spread of weeds resistant to glyphosate in the Midwest is triggering intensification of herbicide use over longer periods of time. “Until this year, most herbicides in the Midwest were sprayed during a six-week window, but now heavy herbicide spray season will last at least four months, placing more women and children at heightened risk,” Phil Landrigan, dean for global health at Mount Sinai Medical School and a member of the research team, said in a statement. As a result, he and his colleagues predict the risk of reproductive problems and adverse birth outcomes will rise among women and children living in rural areas.

Another article on this research is from Carey Gillam for Huffington Post: Moms Exposed To Monsanto Weed Killer Means Bad Outcomes For Babies

Roundup is a pesticide (a weed-killer or herbicide) containing the active ingredient glyphosate. It is a controversial herbicide that is the most heavily used pesticide in the world. And since the introduction of Roundup Ready crops that have been genetically modified to survive repeated Roundup applications, the use is only increasing on farms. Several posts (here, here, and here) have discussed research and controversies with Roundup, and the numerous health concerns (including that it is a "probable carcinogen"), as well as the residues that are in our food (and allowed to be there).

But...I just read an article that said that a product called Roundup, but containing acetic acid instead of glyphosate, is now available at garden centers in Austria. Ordinary vinegar is 5% acetic acid.  Huh?? Can that be? Yes, this product called Roundup AC is being manufactured by Scotts (the name is licensed from Monsanto), and it uses 10% acetic acid in place of glyphosate. Apparently Scotts wanted to use the name because Roundup is so well known as a strong herbicide. So, the question is: Will it soon also be available in the US and elsewhere? How well does it work? One problem - it is unknown from what I am reading whether other "more toxic" ingredients (the secret "inert" ingredients) are also in the product. Here is a link to the product's page at the Austrian store Hornbach and at Amazon (above photo is of Roundup AC).

By the way, vinegar works great as a weed-killer, especially on young weeds. Ordinary vinegar contains 5% acetic acid, but products with higher amounts of acetic acid (from 8% to 20%) are available (sometimes called horticultural vinegar) . But note that acetic acid products stronger than 10% can be dangerous if used carelessly - can cause burns if get some on bare skin or spilled on a person (it is acid, after all), so gloves and eye goggles should be used when using the stronger acetic acid products.

To use ordinary vinegar as a weed-killer: Use on a hot sunny dry day. Just spray or pour some on the offending weeds - and whatever the vinegar touches will soon die. Unfortunately the weeds may come back after a week or two (the root systems may not be killed off) - so just reapply vinegar. Or can make the effects of the vinegar stronger by adding one cup salt to a gallon vinegar or a little (a teaspoon or more) dish detergent to the vinegar. Or combine all three ingredients when needing permanent removal of vegetation from an area such as sidewalk cracks or gravel driveways.

From The Ecologist: Monsanto's new 'glyphosate-free' Roundup is vinegar!

Has Monsanto, dubbed the 'world's most evil corporation', turned a new leaf? It has taken the 'probably carcinogenic' glyphosate out of a new version of its market leading 'Roundup' herbicide, and replaced it with vinegar. The bad news is it's only available in Austria. That, and it may still contain toxic 'adjuvants' to increase its effectiveness.

A new type of Roundup is on sale in Austrian garden centres. It's the same old bottle with the same familiar brand name and is marketed by Scotts, under licence from Monsanto. The only difference compared with the old-style Roundup is that the new one has a prominent label on the front saying it's formulated "without glyphosate" ("ohne Glyphosat" in German). On the back, on the ingredients label, the 'active substance' is defined as none other than vinegar: 'Essigsäure'.

 

Monsanto's new 'Glyphosate-free' Roundup product, and a bottle of vinegar. Photo: Dr Helmut Burtscher  (a biochemist/ GMWatch).

In fact, organic and other gardeners have long been using vinegar as a weedkiller, which works by sucking moisture out of plants' leaves. It's most effective if used in dry weather when plants are already water-stressed, and the vinegar won't get washed off or diluted by rain. Most recipes also advise adding soap or washing up liquid to help it spread over leaves.

Why does Dr. Burtscher [biochemist who bought this product at an Austrian garden center] think that Scotts brought out this product? "The World Health Organisations' cancer agency IARC has stated that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen. Monsanto has admitted in court that it cannot claim that Roundup doesn't cause cancer because the complete formulation has never been tested. "Garden centres are wondering what they can tell their customers. They have undoubtedly lost business. Some have phased out all chemical pesticides, such as Bellaflora, which took this step in cooperation with GLOBAL 2000 long before IARC came out with its verdict.....Now they only sell organic-approved plant protection products."

But why does Burtscher think Scotts are calling its new vinegar-based herbicide Roundup? "Maybe Scotts thought: We need this trade name because people see Roundup as more effective than vinegar!"

Burtscher spent about €30 on the glyphosate-free Roundup but says in future he will just buy vinegar if it works out cheaper. It may also be safer, he adds, since "We do not know if the vinegar-based Roundup formulation still contains toxic adjuvants." ('Adjuvants' are additives present in glyphosate herbicide formulations that are designed to increase the toxicity of glyphosate to plants, for example by 'fixing' them to leaves and reduce wash-off in rain. But they can also increase the toxicity to animals, as in the case of tallowamine often used with glyphosate.) But if Scotts can prove the safety of the adjuvants, Burtscher says it's a win-win situation:"It's a victory for Monsanto because now it has a product that doesn't cause harm and a victory for people and the environment."

Great article about the importance of both dirt (it's alive!) and exposure to nature. Main points: It’s estimated that children now spend less time outside than the average prisoner, and that that the average American adult now spends 93 percent of their life indoors (in our homes, workplaces, cars, etc.). It is now thought that human beings need to be exposed to lots of microbes when young for proper immune system development - and this means exposure to the microbes in dirt (for example, young children benefit from playing in the dirt!). There is much harm on many levels from monocultures (whether huge fields of only one crop or "perfect" lawns) sustained by large amounts of chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers). In contrast, a lawn with diversity (clover, flowering "weeds", etc) avoids the use of dangerous chemicals, has benefits to wildlife and humans, and is also a "bee habitat".

Also, what is rarely discussed, but very important to the health of our environment: An estimated quarter of a million acres are paved or repaved in the United States each year - so that “asphalt is the land’s last crop". Paving over the land is "soil sealing", because this cuts off air and water, and kills the microorganisms and insects that live there. This results in dirt being killed off forever. Yikes! Why isn't this discussed more? Excerpts from National Geographic:

WHY YOU NEED MORE DIRT IN YOUR LIFE

It’s estimated that children now spend less time outside than the average prisoner. This could have devastating effects: Kids need to be exposed to the microbes in the soil to build up their defences against diseases that may attack them later. But it’s not just children, Paul Bogard explains in his new book, The Ground Beneath Us. The EPA estimates that the average American adult now spends 93 percent of their life indoors. As we retreat indoors, more and more of the earth is disappearing, with an estimated quarter of a million acres paved or repaved in the United States each year

When National Geographic caught up with Bogard by phone at his home in Minnesota, the author explained why Iowa is the most transformed state in the U.S., how soil is alive but we’re killing it, and how places where terrible things happened can become sacred ground.

You write, “We are only just now beginning to understand the vast life in the soil, what it does, and how our activities on the surface may affect it.” Talk us through some highlights of the new science—and how you became so passionate about dirt.

It began with this statistic: that those of us in the Western world now spend about 90-95 percent of our time inside, in our houses, workplaces, in our cars. We’re living our lives separated from the natural world. When we walk outside, many of us walk on pavement. There’s this literal separation from the natural ground, from the soil, the dirt. It made me think, what are the costs of this separation? And it struck me as symbolic of our separation of these many different kinds of grounds that sustain us. Our food, water, energy, even our spirits come from these different grounds.

One of the first scientific discoveries I found was the hypothesis that human beings need to be exposed to the biota in the dirt, on the ground, especially when they’re kids, as a way of inoculating us to diseases that appear later in life. Kids these days are not being exposed to dirt because they’re not allowed to play outside. Their parents think dirt is dirty. But both the newest science and the oldest traditions tell us the same thing, which is that the ground is alive. The ground gives us life. And in the book, I tried to touch on both of those things.

One expert you quote says, “asphalt is the land’s last crop.” Talk about “soil sealing” and how roads and suburbs are literally eating away at the ground beneath our feet.

Soil sealing is one of the most shocking things I learned about. When we pave over the natural ground, we cut it off from the air and water that the life in the ground needs to stay alive. We essentially kill that ground. There is an argument that, if we pulled up the pavement and worked hard to rejuvenate that ground, we could bring it back. But the scientists I talked to said, when you pave it over, it’s the last crop, the last thing that’s going to grow there. We’re not moving in the direction of pulling pavement up. We’re moving in the opposite direction where we’re paving some of our most fertile ground, the ground that we’re going to need to feed a growing population.

You also had childhood affection for Iowa. But when you went back to research your book, you changed your mind. Why?

As a child, I was enamoured with the beauty of the green corn stalks, the black dirt, and what I thought was the natural topography. Coming back older and with a new understanding of the ground, it made me uncomfortable because Iowa is the most transformed state in the union. Some 97 percent of the natural ground has been altered, changed, or transformed. As one biologist said, “it’s an open air monoculture owned by monopolies.” So, instead of my romantic, childhood view of miles of corn stalks, the beauty of life growing, and the colour green, I saw it as this monoculture where another life isn’t allowed to grow.

Americans love their lawns and spend billions of dollars keeping them green and weed free. But we are also paying a high price for this perfect turf, aren’t we?

Oh my! We really are, certainly ecologically, paying a high price. America’s greatest crop, the thing we grow the most of, is our turf grass lawns. And the amounts of pesticides and chemical fertilisers we dump onto these lawns, and the amount of water that we use to grow them, is enormous. As a result, we have problems with runoff draining into our rivers and the lawns themselves tend to become monocultures, where nothing else grows but the turf grass. What a massive opportunity is being lost! We could have lawns that are more biologically diverse and pollinator-friendly. There’s also evidence that a number of illnesses are associated with coming into contact with these chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

This site has several recent posts about the controversial pesticide glyphosate (found in Monsanto's Round-Up). Glyphosate is the most heavily used pesticide in the world, and is used as a weed-killer (herbicide). It is used extensively in the USA - on farms, on roadsides, on residential properties, on school properties - basically everywhere, and its use is increasing. Studies have reported to have a number of worrisome health effects (including cancer) which its manufacturer is vigorously denying. There have even been recently revealed ties between Monsanto and some officials in the EPA.

United States government agencies only looked for the presence of glyphosate residues in some foods for a short time last year, and then stopped all testing. So WE DON'T KNOW HOW MUCH GLYPHOSATE WE ARE INGESTING DAILY in the United States. Our government refuses to test. Journalist Carey Gillam wrote that "a source within the FDA said there has been political pressure not to delve too deeply into the issue of glyphosate residues". To many it smacks of: if we don't test for glyphosate in foods, then there is no problem of how much is in foods. Because everyone agrees it is found in food - that's why there are standards for maximum residue levels or "tolerances" (but note they were increased when Monsanto asked to have them increased).

Well.....Canada does test for the pesticide in foods. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency just released a report of the results of testing 3,188 foods for traces of glyphosate residues, and found the pesticide in nearly 30% of the foods tested. Residue levels were above the Canadian acceptable limits in 1.3% of the foods. Glyphosate was found the most in: beans, peas, and lentil products (47.4%); grain products (36.6%); and baby cereals (31%). Only 1.3 percent of the total samples were found with glyphosate residue levels above what Canadian regulators allow, though 3.9 percent of grain products contained more of the weed killer than is permissible.

Legally allowable levels or Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) vary from food to food and pesticide to pesticide, as well as from country to country. The European Union allowable residues for glyphosate on foods are lower than the US maximum allowable amount (yes, once again American standards are more lax). And remember that people ingest numerous pesticides in their foods, and no one knows what health effects are from these combinations of chronic low level pesticide exposures. NOTE: The only way to avoid glyphosate residues in foods is to eat organic foods. Glyphosate is not allowed to be used on organic foods or in organic feed for organically raised animals.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency: Safeguarding with Science: Glyphosate Testing in 2015-2016

Since my last post on the most commonly used pesticide in the world - glyphosate - there have been a number of important developments. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the weed-killer or herbicide Roundup, which is manufactured by the chemical giant Monsanto. There have been more questions raised about the safety of glyphosate, and also what went on behind the scenes recently between Monsanto and some officials at the EPA, especially EPA deputy division director Jess Rowland.

Was there a downplaying of the pesticide's health effects or squashing of researchers and studies that raised health concerns? (Remember that the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, found glyphosate to be a "probable carcinogen" in 2015, but the manufacturer Monsanto has fought long and hard against that designation) Was there corruption? Or ...?

A big problem is that the EPA relies on industry-funded studies to determine if something is safe or not - which is like the fox guarding the chicken house. Also, were the so-called "independent" research articles actually ghost-written by industry (Monsanto), which is what some documents are suggesting? And why was a government review of the pesticide squashed? Tsk.... tsk.... Another problem is that the EPA can choose which studies to include when making a decision - and they can choose to disregard independent peer-reviewed research (the better research) and rely on industry studies that are not peer-reviewed (definitely bias in these studies). And yes, this happened here. For example, the EPA has ignored more than 1500 published (and peer reviewed) studies on glyphosate from the last decade and instead relied largely on less than 300 unpublished, non-peer-reviewed studies. Another tsk...tsk....

Now a published paper by noted researchers (see below) makes the case that the debate over glyphosate remains unsettled and requires further review. The researchers recommend such things as better testing of glyphosate levels and its metabolites in the human body. They pointed out that some studies with rodents found that glyphosate is a carcinogen (can "induce cancers"), and other studies find glyphosate is associated with negative health effects in humans, such as chronic kidney disease and some cancers. Some research suggests that glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor. Also, chemical mixtures can be more toxic than individual chemicals - this is a concern with the chemicals in Roundup. Studies are needed examining people exposed through their occupations (e.g., pesticide applicators), and also "vulnerable populations (e.g., pregnant women, babies, children). The researchers added that current safety standards are outdated and may fail to protect public health and the environment.

I would like to add that this is why glyphosate residues need to be studied in food - we are eating the stuff unless we only eat organic food. Due to the practices of "preharvest application" of glyphosate (Roundup) and the increasing use of genetically modified crops (such as Roundup Ready crops) that allow the herbicide to be applied without killing the crop (but which means the pesticide is in the crop), the use of glyphosate is increasing rapidly. And then there is the use on school grounds, in suburban yards, and properties. Yikes! This is not a political issue - this is a health issue, and of having the right-to-know what is in our food, our bodies, and our environment (you don't think it just stays on the fields where it is used, do you?)

Excerpts from the NY Times article: Monsanto Weed Killer Roundup Faces New Doubts on Safety in Unsealed Documents

The reputation of Roundup, whose active ingredient is the world’s most widely used weed killer, took a hit on Tuesday when a federal court unsealed documents raising questions about its safety and the research practices of its manufacturer, the chemical giant Monsanto.... A case in federal court in San Francisco has challenged that conclusion, building on the findings of an international panel that claimed Roundup’s main ingredient might cause cancer.

The court documents included Monsanto’s internal emails and email traffic between the company and federal regulators. The records suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research that was later attributed to academics and indicated that a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency had worked to quash a review of Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, that was to have been conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The documents also revealed that there was some disagreement within the E.P.A. over its own safety assessment.

Excerpts from an article about the BMJ paper (see below) at Science Daily: Weedkiller chemical (glyphosate) safety standards need urgent review

But most of the science used to support the safety standards applied in the US was carried out more than 30 years ago, and relatively little of it was subject to peer review, they point out. More than 1500 studies have been published on the chemical over the past decade alone. "It is incongruous that safety assessments of the most widely used herbicide on the planet rely largely on fewer than 300 unpublished, non-peer reviewed studies while excluding the vast modern literature on glyphosate effects," say the experts. And despite the rapid increase in use there is no systematic monitoring system for tracking levels in human tissue, and few studies have looked at potential harms to human health.

But recent animal studies have suggested that glyphosate at doses lower than those used to assess risk, may be linked to heightened risks of liver, kidney, eye and cardiovascular system damage. And weed-killers, which combine glyphosate with other 'so-called inert ingredients,' may be even more potent. But these mixtures are regarded as commercially sensitive by the manufacturers and are therefore not available for public scrutiny, say the experts.

Excerpt from the BMJ Journal of Epidiomology and Community Health: Is it time to reassess current safety standards for glyphosate-based herbicides?

Use of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) increased ∼100-fold from 1974 to 2014. Additional increases are expected due to widespread emergence of glyphosate-resistant weeds, increased application of GBHs, and preharvest uses of GBHs as desiccants. Current safety assessments rely heavily on studies conducted over 30 years ago. We have considered information on GBH use, exposures, mechanisms of action, toxicity and epidemiology. Human exposures to glyphosate are rising, and a number of in vitro and in vivo studies challenge the basis for the current safety assessment of glyphosate and GBHs. We conclude that current safety standards for GBHs are outdated and may fail to protect public health or the environment.