Affect The Future Today
We were in the shop recently, considering our inventory of pesticides (which is minimal). Storage of pesticides is a subject that should be handled with great respect and care for safety. Often what happens, is that you purchase a ready-to-use package or bottle of an herbicide and don’t use it all up in one season. In our case, we had a small remainder of Roundup lingering. Looking at the bottle, my brain filled with all of the latest controversies and debates regarding Roundup, Monsanto, genetically-modified food crops, Roundup resistant weeds, pollution, and so on. On one hand, Roundup is touted as a safe, environmentally friendly, easy to use herbicide. On the other hand, it is condemned with claims that it is a toxic dangerous chemical being overused, poisoning the environment, and causing all kinds of medical maladies. We are constantly trying to incorporate sustainable practices into our operation for two reasons. It is important that we leave this Earth in better condition than we received it, for the good of the children that will inherit it from us. Economically, there are usually safer, more sustainable solutions that will cost less. Chemicals are expensive. It is difficult for most of us to consider the long term cost of something when we open our bankbook to pay an invoice for services/products received today. Eating a $3.00 “value-meal” at your local fast food establishment everyday may be economically feasible in the short term, but we all know that daily doses of fast food will have long term health effects that could cause bankruptcy. We must work to find balances with economically and environmentally sustainable practices.
Nonetheless, staring at this bottle, conscience kicked in, and it was time for an introspective debate. Roundup that is mixed will lose potency after about six months. Concentrate will keep its potency for five to eight years. Just because a pesticide loses its potency does not render the product safe for disposal. There are two recommended methods of disposal. The Roundup MSDS (material safety data sheet) states, “Wastes resulting from the use of this product that cannot be used or chemically reprocessed should be disposed of in a landfill approved for pesticide disposal or in accordance with applicable Federal, state or local procedures.” Okay…so does your landfill handle pesticides? What if it doesn’t? Some cooperative extensions have disposal programs. To locate the contact info for your state’s agricultural cooperative extension, link to our resources page. Otherwise, you are supposed to apply remaining pesticide to an appropriate site. In other words, use up the rest of it on weeds. We would love to believe that everyone is intelligent and conscious of their actions but… Let’s look at cellphones. We have all seen ignorant drivers that believe it’s okay to risk the life of everyone in proximity so that they can text. We have all seen the people that walk in front of busses, fall off subway platforms, or walk into walls and water features while fiddling with their phones. Seeing these examples of human behavior is discouraging. It’s one thing to walk yourself into a wall. When you poison the water that we all drink, swim in, and consume fish from by wrongful application, disposal or overuse of pesticides, that constitutes a problem.
What is Roundup? Roundup is a broad spectrum, non-selective herbicide. This means that it will damage or kill most any plant that it comes into contact with. Wind can carry this product and kill desired plants as well as the weeds. The active ingredient is called Glyphosate. Glyphosate’s mode of action is to inhibit an enzyme involved in the synthesis of the aromatic amino acids tyrosine, tryptophan and phenylalanine. It is absorbed through foliage and translocated to growing points. This means it is a post-emergent herbicide. The weed must already be actively growing. Roundup does not really have any pre-emergent qualities. As with many pesticides, not just the active ingredients are dangerous but the additional adjuvants and “inert” ingredients can be toxic as well. Roundup is not to be used in proximity to water because one of the adjuvants is toxic to fish. Monsanto reformulated another product called Rodeo with Glyphosate that is ‘supposed’ to be safe when used around water…no comment.
Let’s look at some facts about Roundup:
- Roundup is made by Monsanto. Monsanto also sells their line of genetically modified and patented, “Roundup ready” seeds. These seeds grow plants that will not die when sprayed with Roundup while any other plant in the proximity will succumb to the herbicide.
- New “Roundup resistant” weeds have evolved and been found in some farming systems. This means that a more toxic and deadly herbicide will be needed. An outbreak of these new “super-weeds” could prove difficult to deal with in the future.
- Glyphosate was detected in between 60 and 100% of air and rain samples taken in the American Midwest during the crop growing season, where Roundup Ready GM crops are widely planted. (Chang FC, Simcik MF, Capel PD. Occurrence and fate of the herbicide glyphosate and its degradate aminomethylphosphonic acid in the atmosphere. Environ Toxicol Chem. Mar 2011; 30(3): 548–555.
- Glyphosate is toxic to Earthworms. (Springett JA, Gray RAJ. Effect of repeated low doses of biocides on the earthworm Aporrectodea caliginosa in laboratory culture. Soil Biol Biochem. 1992; 24: 1739–1744)
- Claims that Roundup and glyphosate are safe for human health and the environment have been overturned in courts in the United States (Attorney General of the State of New York, Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau, Environmental Protection Bureau. In the matter of Monsanto Company, respondent. Assurance of discontinuance pursuant to executive law § 63(15). New York, NY, Nov. False advertising by Monsanto regarding the safety of Roundup herbicide (glyphosate). 1996. http://www.mindfully.org/Pesticide/Monsanto-v-AGNYnov96.htm)
- In France, the French court forced Monsanto to withdraw advertising claims that Roundup is biodegradable and leaves the soil clean after use. (Agence France Presse. Monsanto fined in France for ‘false’ herbicide ads. 26 January 2007)
- In 1850, America’s food was grown by 69% of the population. In 2013, according to the US EPA, less than 1% of the population now creates all of the food. This is thanks to technological advances in equipment and chemicals (like Roundup).
Claims that Glyphosate residues in food cause everything from Attention Deficit Disorder to Autism permeate the internet. We’re not sure if any of it is true and don’t have the resources to lab test the data. We are sure that we can do better than this. The US Environmental Protection Agency does not say that Glyphosate or Roundup are safe. It assigns “tolerances” to the amount that won’t be toxic to children.
This is an EPA Technical Factsheet.
You can link to it here
Technical Factsheet on: GLYPHOSATE
List of Contaminants
As part of the Drinking Water and Health pages, this fact sheet is part of a larger publication:
National Primary Drinking Water Regulations
Drinking Water Standards
MCLG: 0.7 mg/L
MCL: 0.7 mg/L
HAL(child): 1- to 10- day: 20 mg/L; Longer-term: 1 mg/L
Health Effects Summary
Acute: EPA has found glyphosate to potentially cause the following health effects from acute exposures at levels above the MCL: congestion of the lungs; increased breathing rate.
Drinking water levels which are considered “safe” for short-term exposures: For a 10-kg (22 lb.) child consuming 1 liter of water per day, upto a ten-day exposure to 20 mg/L or up to a 7-year exposure to 1 mg/L.
Chronic: Glyphosate has the potential to cause the following health effects from long-term exposures at levels above the MCL: kidney damage, reproductive effects.
Cancer: There is inadequate evidence to state whether or not glyphosate has the potential to cause cancer from a lifetime exposure in drinking water.
Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide registered for use on many food and non-food crops as well as non-crop areas where total vegetation control is desired. When applied at lower rates, it serves as a plant growth regulator. The most common uses include control of broadleaf weeds and grasses in : hay/pasture, soybeans, field corn; ornamentals, lawns, turf, forest plantings, greenhouses and rights-of-way.
Glyphosate is among the most widely used pesticides by volume. In 1986, an estimated 6,308,000 pounds of glyphosate was used in the United Sates. Usage in 1990 was estimated to be 11,595,000 pounds. It ranked eleventh among conventional pesticides in the US during 1990-91. In recent years, 13 to 20 million acres were treated with 18.7 million lbs. annually. Glyphosate is generally sold as the isopropylamine salt and applied as a liquid foliar spray.
Glyphosate is released to the environment in its use as a herbicide for controlling woody and herbaceous weeds on forestry, right-of-way, cropped and non-cropped sites. These sites may be around water and in wetlands.
It may also be released to the environment during its manufacture, formulation, transport, storage, disposal and cleanup, and from spills. Since glyphosate is not a listed chemical in the Toxics Release Inventory, data on releases during its manufacture and handling are not available.
Glyphosate is most often applied as a spray of the isopropylamine salt and is removed from the atmosphere by gravitational settling. After glyphosate is applied to forests, fields, and other land by spraying, it is strongly adsorbed to soil, remains in the upper soil layers, and has a low propensity for leaching. Iron and aluminum clays and organic matter adsorbed more glyphosate than sodium and calcium clays and was readily bound to kaolinite, illite, bentonite, charcoal and muck but not to ethyl cellulose.
Glyphosate readily and completely biodegrades in soil even under low temperature conditions. Its average half-life in soil is about 60 days. Biodegradation in foliage and litter is somewhat faster. In field studies, residues are often found the following year.
Glyphosate may enter aquatic systems through accidental spraying, spray drift, or surface runoff. It dissipates rapidly from the water column as a result of adsorption and possibly biodegradation. The half- life in water is a few days. Sediment is the primary sink for glyphosate. After spraying, glyphosate levels in sediment rise and then decline to low levels in a few months. Due to its ionic state in water, glyphosate would not be expected to volatilize from water or soil.
Based on its water solubility, glyphosate is not expected to bioconcentrate in aquatic organisms. It is minimally retained and rapidly eliminated in fish, birds, and mammals. The BCF of glyphosate in fish following a 10-14 day exposure period was 0.2 to 0.3.
Occupational workers and home gardeners may be exposed to glyphosate by inhalation and dermal contact during spraying, mixing, and cleanup. They may also be exposed by touching soil and plants to which glyphosate was applied. Occupational exposure may also occur during glyphosate’s manufacture, transport storage, and disposal.
Chemical/ Physical Properties
CAS Number: 1071-83-6
Color/ Form/Odor: Odorless white crystals
M.P.: 230 C B.P.: N/A
Vapor Pressure: Negligible
Octanol/Water Partition (Kow): N/A
Density/Spec. Grav.: 0.5g/ml at 15 C
Solubility: 12 g/L of water at 25 C; Soluble in water
Soil sorption coefficient: Strong, reversible adsorption
Odor/Taste Thresholds: N/A
Henry’s Law Coefficient: N/A
Bioconcentration Factor: BCF <1 in fish; not expected to bioconcentrate in aquatic organisms.
Trade Names/Synonyms: N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine; Glialka; Roundup; Sting; Rodeo; Spasor; Muster; Tumbleweed; Sonic; Glifonox; Glycel; Rondo
Other Regulatory Information
Monitoring For Ground/Surface Water Sources:
Initial Frequency- 4 quarterly samples every 3 years Repeat Frequency- If no detections during initial round:
2 quarterly per year if serving >3300 persons;
1 sample per 3 years for smaller systems Triggers – Return to Initial Freq. if detect at > 0.006 mg/L
Reference Source Method Numbers
EPA 600/4-88-039 547 Standard Methods 6651
Treatment- Best Available Technologies: Granular Activated Charcoal
For Additional Information:
EPA can provide further regulatory and other general information: EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline – 800/426-4791
Other sources of toxicological and environmental fate data include: Toxic Substance Control Act Information Line – 202/554-1404
Toxics Release Inventory, National Library of Medicine – 301/496-6531 Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry – 404/639-6000 National Pesticide Hotline – 800/858-7378
We can do better than a world that is “not quite toxic”. There are alternatives. If it requires a few more farmers, so what. We don’t have a food production problem in this world. We have a food waste problem. According to The EPA Food Recovery Challenge,
- More than 36 million tons of food waste was generated in 2011, 96% of which was thrown away into landfills or incinerators.
- 14.9% of U.S. households were food insecure in 2011, meaning they did not know where their next meal would come from.
- Waste food means wasted money for businesses and families.
- Food decomposes in landfills to generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Farmers are only a portion of the problem. Because of their large size acreages, they are easy targets. Millions of homeowners and landscape companies are using (often incorrectly) tons of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers every year. In 2011, six hundred fifty thousand metric tons of just glyphosate products alone were used worldwide. There is a plethora of research proving that organic farming can be as productive and more environmentally friendly. Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms has a holistic approach to farming that is not only productive and safe, but environmentally beneficial.
It’s your choice. While we can’t control the actions of others, we can contribute to a green future by choosing not to use chemicals whenever possible. By the way, now that the leaves are down, it’s a great time to put down a blanket of mulch to prevent spring weeds. Using a compost/mulch blend will avoid the need to fertilize in the spring.
America! We can do better than tolerating toxic “tolerances”!