(Beyond Pesticides November 4, 2015) On Monday, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Environmental Health, El Quinto Sol de America, Californians for Pesticide Reform, the Center for Food Safety and the Pesticide Action Network released a report with findings that that more than half of the commercial glyphosate sprayed in California is applied in the state’s eight most impoverished counties. Glyphosate is a phosphanoglycine herbicide that inhibits an enzyme essential to plant growth. Commonly known as Roundup, glyphosate is classified as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for the Research of Cancer (IARC), based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals, and is currently under review to receive a similar designation from the state under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Proposition 65).
The report, Lost in the Mist: How Glyphosate Use Disproportionately Threatens California’s Most Impoverished Counties, found that 54 percent of glyphosate spraying in California is applied in eight counties, many of which are located in the southern part of the Central Valley. The analysis finds that the populations in these counties are predominantly Hispanic or Latino, indicating that glyphosate use in California is distributed unequally along both socioeconomic and racial lines. The report aligns with another recent study by California EPA that found Hispanics and people in poverty disproportionately live in areas of high pesticide use, and a 2014 California Department of Public Health study showing that Hispanic children are 46 percent more likely than white children to attend schools near hazardous pesticide use. All of these findings bring awareness to the factors that perpetuate environmental injustice in our low-income and minority communities.
“We’ve uncovered a disturbing trend where poor and minority communities disproportionately live in regions where glyphosate is sprayed,” said Nathan Donley, Ph.D., a staff scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “In high doses glyphosate is dangerous to people, and California can’t, in good conscience, keep allowing these communities to pay the price for our overreliance on pesticides.”
Glyphosate, touted as a “low toxicity” chemical and “safer” than other chemicals by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and industry, is widely used in food production and on lawns, gardens, parks, and children’s playing fields. However, IARC’s classification of glyphosate as a Group 2A “probable” carcinogen represents a finding of carcinogenicity in humans based on laboratory animal testing. The agency considered the findings from an EPA Scientific Advisory Panel report, along with several recent studies in making its conclusion. The agency also notes that glyphosate caused DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells. Further, epidemiologic studies have found that exposure to glyphosate is significantly associated with an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL).
Following the carcinogenic classification by the IARC, a research study published in the journal Environmental Health links long-term, ultra-low dose exposure to glyphosate in drinking water to adverse impacts on the health of liver and kidneys. The study focuses on Glyphosate-based Herbicides (GHBs), rather than pure glyphosate, unlike many of the studies that preceded it. Pediatrician Philip J. Landrigan, M.D., and researcher Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., recently released a prospective article on the effects of glyphosate and GE crops. In this article, they highlight the flaws of past glyphosate studies and conclude that they only considered pure glyphosate “despite studies showing that formulated glyphosate that contains surfactants and adjuvants is more toxic than the pure compound.” Their article also pointed to the ecological impacts of widespread glyphosate use, like the damage it has had on the monarch butterfly and other pollinators. Last year, the Center for Biological Study and Center for Food Safety filed a legal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the monarch butterfly.
All of these findings support the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) efforts to list glyphosate as a cancer-causing chemical under Proposition 65. As evidence of the hazardous effects of glyphosate continue to mount, environmental groups like Beyond Pesticides are urging localities to ban or restrict the use of the chemical. California’s glyphosate listing is certainly a step in the right direction; however, further steps toward a restriction or ban will be needed to protect the public’s health. Being the number one agricultural producing state, California’s action may help to move glyphosate off the market, which would serve as a victory for the low-income communities in the southern part of the Central Valley that are exposed to glyphosate at higher levels than the general population. Disproportionate exposure to glyphosate and the negative health effects that accompany it extend beyond these Californians. In Argentina, the use of genetically engineered (GE) crops and companion pesticides, including glyphosate, has caused significant health impacts in small farming towns, sending cancer rates skyrocketing and quadrupling the number of birth defects. Advocacy groups say that this serves as another example of environmental injustice associated with pesticide products produced by agrichemical companies like Monsanto.
For those who would be unaffected by California’s listing, the best way to avoid glyphosate and other harmful pesticides is to support organic agriculture and eat organic food. Beyond Pesticides has long advocated for organic management practices as a means to foster biodiversity, and research shows that organic farmers do a better job of protecting biodiversity than their chemically-intensive counterparts. Instead of prophylactic use of pesticides and biotechnology, responsible organic farms focus on fostering habitat for pest predators and other beneficial insects, and only resort to judicious use of least-toxic pesticides when other cultural, structural, mechanical, and biological controls have been attempted and proven ineffective.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides
Source: Center for Biological Diversity