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Daily News Blog

26
Mar

Study Finds Copper Sulfate and Glyphosate in Waterways, Linked to Human and Environmental Hazards

The authors of a case study in Canale D’Aiedda, Taranto, Italy conclude the presence of glyphosate and copper in regional waterway.

(Beyond Pesticides, March 26, 2024) The authors of a case study in Canale D’Aiedda, Taranto, Italy, published in Scientific Reports, conclude that, “[T]he results of monitoring and modeling activities revealed a chronic risk associated with the presence of Cu [copper] from November to April in several river reaches and acute risk associated to the presence of glyphosate in several reaches mainly in the wet season.”  According to the authors, “The most important factor influencing the chronic risk for Cu were the combination of two factors: the high surface runoff and the Cu applications. The most important factor influencing the glyphosate peaks of concentration is the streamflow.”

The authors of the study measure the flow of pesticide concentrations through the soil and water assessment tool (SWAT). The ecotoxicological data was collected at two stations in Germany that flow into Italy, within the Canale d’Aiedda basin. The streamflow was monitored between August 2017 and December 2019. Out of hundreds of pesticides and six metabolities investigated in this study, “only traces of copper and glyphosate were found.” The authors continue, “The banks and the bed of the river system are almost all covered by concrete. The hydrological regime is natural and intermittent in the upstream part of the basin, while it is almost perennial, in the remaining area, due to the presence of the discharges from three wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), located in the municipalities of Montemesola, Monteiasi, and San Giorgio Ionico.”

While the researchers found significant levels of glyphosate and copper in the study area, they also acknowledge the potential gaps in the SWAT model. “The SWAT model performed satisfactory and good for Cu and glyphosate, respectively. However, it underestimated measured concentrations for both compounds,” as the study reports. “This could depend on the fact that SWAT does not simulate the drift loss which occurs during a pesticide application[], it is still unable to spatially reflect the fate of the drifted part of particles explicitly due to oversimplification[]. Other sources of uncertainty, which could have influenced the results, are related to the quality and quantity of measurements (i.e. discrete data instead of continuous data) used for the calibration and to the temporal discrepancy between the calibration of the streamflow and the calibration of the pesticides concentration[]. Similarly, the input data (i.e. application rates of the pesticides), which were derived from regulations or from the safety sheet, could be affected by a large uncertainty and they have had a key role in the modelling pesticides concentrations [].”

There are years of scientific studies and reporting that indicate the adverse ecological and public health consequences of widespread glyphosate-based herbicide use in agriculture and land management. A 2023 study in Chemosphere points out that glyphosate exhibits strong evidence of genotoxicity, epigenetic alterations (heritable changes in gene expression), oxidative stress, chronic inflammation, endocrine disruption, and disturbs gut microbiota implicated in lymphomagenesis (growth and development of lymphoma). See the Gateway on Pesticide Hazards and Safe Pest Management for more information and analysis of glyphosate harms. The petrochemical pesticide industry faces continuous litigation from victims of pesticide exposure, including Bayer/Monsanto on Roundup Ready. As of 2022, Bayer settled over 100,000 lawsuits on glyphosate/Roundup, paying out approximately $11 billion. The company faces an additional 30,000 lawsuits pending, according to reporting by Forbes. For a full history of litigation see, “Bayer/Monsanto in Roundup/Glyphosate Case Stung with Largest Multi-Billion Dollar Jury Award, Asks States to Stop Litigation.”

Copper is widely used in agriculture, both conventional and organic for fungal and bacterial diseases in a wide range of crops, including orchards and vegetable production. It is also widely used to treat utility poles throughout communities. Under the Organic Foods Production Act, “The National List [of Allowed a Prohibited Substances] may provide for the use of substances in an organic farming or handling operation that are otherwise prohibited under this title only if” the synthetic allowed materials fit in several categories including copper.

Copper sulfate is widely used in organic rice production to control algae and an invertebrate known as tadpole shrimp. Most of the world transplants rice seedlings into flooded paddies. Dryland rice production eliminates the need for control of tadpoles, which eat the rice seedlings in flooded fields. Ironically, tadpole shrimp are regarded as a biological control for algae. In 2021, the Crops Subcommittee of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) acknowledged the following:

It appears that to date there is sufficient evidence to conclude that:

  1. use of copper sulfate in rice fields can cause environmental damage,
  2. alternative seeding practices could eliminate the need for copper sulfate as both algae and tadpole shrimp cease to be problematic once seedlings are established, and
  3. international standards do not allow for spraying of copper sulfate for organic rice production.

Copper sulfate is a toxic pesticide that has documented incidents of adverse impacts on reproductive, kidney, and liver health. A recent study found that copper sulfate has an association with the development of Parkinson’s disease. Studies also found that copper sulfate is moderately toxic to birds, and it is toxic to fish and aquatic organisms. In previous years, Beyond Pesticides has called for expanded research to determine alternatives to copper sulfate and continues to call for its phase-out of organic agriculture. A 2023 study published in Science of the Total Environment identifies a progressive decline among three endpoints: motor skills, cognitive function, and mental health regarding depression. Markedly, individuals living near residential areas or working in occupations with higher exposure to copper sulfate experience a rapid decline in all endpoints.

The NOSB has previously discussed alternative growing systems that would eliminate the need for copper sulfate and made such alternatives a research priority. Copper sulfate is widely used in organic rice production to control algae and an invertebrate known as tadpole shrimp. Most of the world transplants rice seedlings into flooded paddies. Dryland rice production eliminates the need for control of tadpoles, which eat the rice seedlings in flooded fields. Ironically, tadpole shrimp are regarded as a biological control for algae.

Beyond Pesticides encourages the public to engage with the National Organic Standards board to end the use of all toxic petrochemical pesticides. Every six months the NOSB hosts meetings, reviews allowed substances, and continuously updates their review to ensure the integrity of the organic label and the protection of health and the environment.  People are encouraged to see Beyond Pesticides’ Keeping Organic Strong webpage to learn about next month’s NOSB meeting and a link for submitting comments (due April 3, 2024).

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.  

Source: Scientific Reports

 

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