The Coastal Post - October 1999

RoundUp Could Be A Very Bad Thing

By Carol Sterritt

I was driving along the paths of glory. All around me floated a shimmery summery day in Marin. Then my car spun through Larkspur and Corte Madera, during what must have been a "weed-control" day. The good times came to an abrupt end.

My mouth felt cottony -- a funny taste of soap and rubber. "RoundUp," I said, and I was not refering to a rodeo. I was referring to the Monsanto herbicide, which contains 41% glyphosate, and 15% surfactant. Because I am a mystery child, someone with the unexplainable condition known as "multiple chemical sensitivities," RoundUp is one of my least favorite experiences. When exposed to it, my "mouth feel" changes. Sometimes irritation and bad sinus pain sets in. Mental clarity gives way to a sluggishness that slows my reading and writing speeds. And nightmares about Planet Monsanto turn joy to fear. Most people will not agree with me. Glyphosate is the seventh most commonly applied pesticide in the nation. If you use any chemical treatments on your lawn, most likely you use RoundUp. Should I ask you, as a neighbor, to consider my health and yours, and to avoid such a product, no doubt you will smile and say, "Oh, but it's benign-in fact it has been proven safe time and again."

So naturally, I have come to collect information that proves otherwise. Recently the Northwestern Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) sent me a packet of research detailing many of their concerns. For a moment, neighbor, put down your backyard spray equipment, and consider some facts:

"Round Up affects enzymes found in mammals." Important enzymes located in our livers are deactivated when we come in contact with this chemical. This fact means our detoxification abilities are weakened. Also, an intestinal enzyme has decreased effectiveness after RoundUp exposure.

Besides this, in terms of carcinogenicity, a recent European study, by Dr. Lennart Hardell and Dr. Mikael Eriksson of Sweden, links RoundUp to a form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL). Although this is the first study linking glyphosate with this particular lymphoma, early Monsanto studies (circa 1981 and submitted to the EPA) showed a relationship between glyphosate and testicular tumors in rats.

By 1983, research regarding glyphosate indicated that rare kidney tumors occurred in male mice. This study also concluded that RoundUp was linked to thyroid cancer in female rats. By 1990, the EPA had a study that found a higher level of pancreas and liver tumors in male rats together with an increase of the same thyroid cancer in females that was found in the 1983 study.

Now let's examine NCAP's appraisal of EPA's underhandedness. Despite these reports (of the testicular tumors), the EPA accepted "the interpretation of an industry pathologist who said that the incidence in treated groups (12 percent) was similar to those observed (4.5 per cent) in other rats who were not fed glyphosate." The EPA bought this argument. I read an almost 300% difference between these numbers-so does NCAP, but the "revolving door" between EPA officialdom and the executive-level hires at pesticide companies almost insures that such industry pronouncements are given more respect than they deserve.

Again, according to NCAP's report: Canadian researchers associate glyphosate use with an increase in miscarriages and pre-mature births in farm families. Japanese researchers note various eye disorders. And of course, RoundUp's own Material Safety Data Sheets indicate that the product causes "substantial but temporary eye injury." Monsanto advises those applying RoundUp to wear eye goggles, and to be fully clothed, i.e. long pants, long sleeved shirt, shoes plus socks. The Marin scenario is as likely to be a bare- chested guy or halter-topped gal out dealing with those darn weeds. After all, everyone knows that RoundUp is safe!

CalTrans certainly still feels that way. Despite battling the public for over a decade, CalTrans applies RoundUp to much of the off-ramp vegetation areas on highway 101. Yes, they have improved, with mulch now employed in many spots. But on a bad day, I can drive by the CalTrans-hired applicator at the Marin City, Sausalito off ramp, and from that dosage immediately experience the spray created by the Sausalito Public Works' crews. Sausalito's school children have no choice but to be impacted by these programs-the town has Bridgeway as the main and only connecting street, where kids need to walk to go from the school in Sausalito back to their homes in Marin City.

Luckily, out in West Marin, the community group "Mow and Sow," under, now deceased, Donna Sheehan's leadership, fought long enough hard enough that mowing equipment has replaced spray along the major roadsides.

Someone else working long and hard in the fight for health is Warren Porter at The University of Wisconsin. His team of biologists and medical researchers conducted a five year study that investigated the link between aggression and pesticide-fertilizer mixtures' interactions. Their experiment added carbamate insecticides, triazine herbicides, and nitrate nitrogen from fertilizer to the drinking water of male mice. What they discovered is that the test population experienced detrimental effects. The mice experienced a decline in body weight (from the aldicarb and nitrate, atrazine and nitrate, and aldicarb and nitrate together). Plus the mice suffered with noticeable effects on their thyroid levels, and their immune systems were compromised.

This drinking water, chemical mixture duplicates the typical Residues found in the drinking water of many American cities.

In considering the thyroid level changes found in the mice, Porter emphasized that the aggressive behavior displayed by the mice after the exposure has implications for their human counterparts. Due to the toxics in our drinking water, we can expect thyroid disruption among our own young. This offers one explanation for the many children now diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, hyper- activity, impaired learning abilities, etc. Previous to Porter's study, chemical companies had examined a single chemical's overall biological effect. But Porter's study is the first to look at what happens when we ingest ingredients in a chemical soup rather than a single chemical over any given time period. The chemical soup scenario is far more typical of what our drinking water consists of. Monsanto has asked through their spokeswoman, Lisa M. Drake, that I discount Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides statements about RoundUp and that instead I focus on their record. According to Monsanto, the glyphosate in RoundUp has undergone over one thousand "independent" tests, each of which have been able to prove RoundUp's safety. Over the next few months, I will indeed be examining the independence of these tests. I will determine if donation lists to university biology and chemistry labs correspond to the list of laboratories willing to vouch for RoundUp's safety.

In the meantime, Ms. Drake, my perception of the honesty, decency and "independence"of Monsanto's products leads me to propose a forcefull challenge: Monsanto, if my belief in you is so altogether important, than I am sure you will have little problem in offering funding to Warren Porter, James W. Jeager, and Ian H. Campbell for experiments of their choosing regarding RoundUp and its link to the compromising of immune, endocrine and thyroid systems in laboratory test subjects. Could it be that the enzyme that NCAP claims is shut off in the liver detoxification processes by none-other-than RoundUp is one of the keys to why some MCS sufferers such as myself seem unable to cope with other toxics (i.e. car fumes, perfume, copy machines, etc) after a pulsing dose of RoundUp has been ingested? As a citizen of our planet, I must look to a larger view. This product afflicts diverse populations of wildlife. According to NCAP's research, once the habitat that they depend upon is stripped away, beneficial insects, birds and small mammals have no shelter or food, and must either (if possible) relocate, or if not possible, die off.

The American right to enjoy a pristine lawn means that a single backyard culture, that of a close-trimmed grass, replaces all the plant life that nature intended for her creatures large and small. I remember the lawns of my childhood. For the most part, although often gorgeous and green, they were merely mowed and watered. On those velvet launch pads, robins found numerous worms for themselves and their offspring. Nowadays, the vast acreage of office parks offers such birds little in the way of worm or grub for their tummies. And the suburban gardener, determined to not let a single dandelion darken his lawn's perfection, sprays merrily away.

Our forests also deserve our concern. What NCAP tells me gives me concern. Scientists report that clear-cuts made by forest industry show a significant difference in bird populations when one area is treated with glyphosate, and another is left unsprayed. The sprayed clear-cut will see diminished numbers of its common species of birds.

For instance, in Nova Scotia, the white-throated sparrow and common yellowthroat declined in number for several years after such a spraying. It took four years for the birds' numbers to come back in both clear-cut areas. However, by then, the unsprayed plot not only experienced the return of its original inhabitants, but had added warblers, hummingbirds, and vireos to their environment.

Because RoundUp reduces the insect population, there is a "trickle-up" effect in the food chain. With fewer insects, mice rats, shrews, and voles decrease in number. With fewer small mammals, fox, bobcat, and coyote populations taper off. The decline can be drastic. In Maine, insect-eating voles dropped in number for three years after glyphosate spraying of clear-cut areas. In British Columbia, deer mice populations were down by 83 per cent. Chipmunks fared poorly in British Columbia studies, also.

As far as larger animals, Canadian scientists have more bad news. The decimation of vegetation caused by glyphosate impacts moose, elk, and mule deer populations. Over 30% of the varieties of their traditional fodder are damaged by glyphosate.

Another consideration is Monsanto's recent genetic engineering. Much of the soy product that we purchase in our commercial grocery store is from "RoundUp"-ready soy. (You do not need to be a "Tofu-enthusiast" to consume soy - its oil is in many products.) The modification means that this soy withstands higher levels of "RoundUp" being sprayed on it. Already Monsanto has received permits for a threefold increase in the residue on its soybeans in the U.S. and in Europe. The RoundUp residue allowance will increase from 6 parts per million to 20 parts per million. Soil scientists know that glyphosate and other pesticides interfere with the soil microbes that create healthy soils in the top layer of earthy richness.

Perhaps initially, there will be a small benefit in the matter of increased yield per acre. Eventually, and in perhaps less than a decade, massive soil depletion will begin to show up, and world-wide famine could well be the result. Neither our regulatory agencies or our "academentia"-based scientists lack of common sense have kept us safe. But they have kept us "feeling" safe.

And in feeling safe, we continue to vote for a product like RoundUp with our pocketbooks. Which is all that the spectre of Monsanto cares about, its bottom line for the short term. As we wake up, Monsanto puts more and more money into "advisors" who show up at city council meetings across the country, attempting to block local attempts to ban pesticides. But the word is getting out. It is up to each and everyone of us that this word not be too little too late.

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