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CDC researchers: High levels of toxic weedkiller found in children, adults

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An alarming percentage of children and adults had detectable levels of the herbicide glyphosate in their urine, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, a weedkiller widely used by consumers and farmers throughout the world.

The study found:

  • 87 percent of 650 children tested had detectable levels of glyphosate in their urine
  • 80 percent of the more than 1,600 urine samples of adults had detectable levels of the weedkiller
  • Food is the main route to exposure for children, ages 18 and under

The CDC regularly tests human biomonitoring samples for a number of contaminants and diseases.

“Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the country, yet until now we had very little data on exposure,” said Alexis Temkin, Ph.D., Environmental Working Group, or EWG, toxicologist. “Children in the U.S. are regularly exposed to this cancer-causing weedkiller through the food they eat virtually every day.”

Temkin said the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, “should take concrete regulatory action to dramatically lower the levels of glyphosate in the food supply and protect children’s health.”

Previous tests by EWG and other public interest groups have found glyphosate in popular breakfast cereals and other foods American adults and children eat on a regular basis.

The presence of glyphosate in food is the result of the herbicide being used as a pre-harvest drying agent, or desiccant, so crops like oats can be harvested sooner than if the plant were allowed to die naturally. This allows easier harvesting but also increases the likelihood that the pesticide makes it into foods, according to a statement from EWG.

The new CDC findings were first reported by the nonprofit environmental and health news site The New Lede and The Guardian.

Timeline

  • March 2015: The International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC – an arm of the World Health Organization – classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The 17-member panel of scientists reviewed nearly 1,000 peer-reviewed, published studies on the potential carcinogenicity of the chemical.
  • April 2019: The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released an analysis that gave weight to studies connecting glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and recommended monitoring children’s exposure to this toxic weedkiller.
  • June 2018: Glyphosate was invented and marketed by Monsanto until 2018, when Bayer bought the company for $63 billion. It inherited liability for about 125,000 claims by people who say the weedkilling products caused their cancer.
  • September 2018: EWG and a number of food companies petitioned the EPA to sharply limit glyphosate residues allowed on oats, and ban its use as a desiccant. The EPA has ignored those calls, according to EWG, allowing U.S. farmers to continue using the crop chemical at harvest.
  • July 2020: EWG released an analysis of laboratory testing that shows glyphosate in more than 90 percent of non-organic hummus and chickpea samples.
  • July 2021: Bayer announced in 2021 that glyphosate will no longer be sold for residential use in the U.S. by 2023. However, it will still be available to farmers for agricultural use

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.

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