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Glyphosate: Most Common Herbicide Puts Tap Water at Risk

Read our quick guide on what you need to know about glyphosate (aka Roundup) and tap water.

Have you ever wondered how the food production industry has been able to keep up with feeding our world’s rapidly growing population? Or perhaps, what your food goes through before it lands on the shelf at the grocery store? The answer to both questions, in part, involves Glyphosate. Glyphosate, more commonly known as “Roundup”, is an herbicide created by Monsanto.

The discovery of glyphosate in 1973 transformed Monsanto’s operations and the global food industry. As the first non-selective herbicide invented, glyphosate can kill any weed in its path, unlike previous herbicides that could only kill specific weeds. Put into production and first commercialized in Malaysia and the UK in 1974, Roundup subsequently became the most widely used agricultural chemical in history. A shocking 9.4 million tons of glyphosate have been sprayed onto fields worldwide since 1974.

The use of Roundup has been under extreme scrutiny recently. There are around 2400 lawsuits and counting against Monsanto, claiming that glyphosate causes cancer. The first case is scheduled to start in June.

We, at SimpleWater, have created a quick guide on understanding exposure to glyphosate through drinking water: how can glyphosate end up in your water, and is glyphosate harmful to humans?

How does glyphosate end up in drinking water?

Several studies suggest that glyphosate, despite its affinity for soil, can make its way into aquatic environments and drinking water wells. Once glyphosate enters water, it becomes stable and does not degrade easily. As a result, glyphosate can enter surface and subsurface water through two main pathways:

  • Roundup windblown into bodies of water adjacent to sprayed fields
  • Irrigation runoff from sprayed fields into distant bodies of water
  • Humans are most likely to be exposed to glyphosate through direct inhalation and skin contact, crops treated with Roundup, or drinking water contaminated with it.

    Of the 2400 lawsuits underway, most people had direct contact with Roundup by using it to spray their homes, schools, and farms. However, one drinking water facility in Florida and two in Louisiana reported glyphosate levels (9.00 parts per billion (ppb), 8.35 & 5.05 ppb respectively) above the Environmental Working Group’s health recommendation of 5ppb. 5 ppb is a much more stringent health goal than the Federal EPA’s legally enforced Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 700 ppb (or 0.7mg/L).

    The EWG did not flag Florida and Louisiana for water quality violations. Rather, these results were highlighted because their facilities reported concentrations above the World Health Organization and EPA’s definition of “acceptable risk” for carcinogens–a one-in-a-million chance of developing cancer.

    These two facilities serve around 8600 people, all of whom could now potentially have a higher risk of developing cancer than the general population.

    What does glyphosate mean for your health?

    Glyphosate is classified as a Group 2A chemical by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), meaning that it is “probably carcinogenic to humans”. The IARC came to this conclusion after many studies conducted on rats in combination with human evidence from accidental exposure. The little data that does exist on humans shows some association for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in animals.

    Of greatest concern, there is strong evidence that glyphosate is genotoxic, i.e. can cause damage directly to DNA, which can lead to cancer. There is also strong evidence that glyphosate induces oxidative stress–an imbalance in our body's capacity to regulate free radicals, which are associated with numerous damaging health outcomes and natural aging processes.

    Despite the evidence from the IARC for the carcinogenicity of glyphosate, Monsanto still claims that Roundup is safe and will not cause cancer. Monsanto’s studies, however, were conducted or commissioned by pesticide companies in support of Monsanto’s goals and are kept hidden from the public.

    How can you protect yourself against glyphosate?

    Perhaps the lawsuits against Monsanto will be successful and Roundup will eventually come off the market, but in the meantime, Simplewater recommends that you protect your water to protect yourself.

    The best ways to protect your health and water are:

  • Do not use glyphosate-based herbicides (especially if you are on well water)
  • If you do use herbicides of any kind, do not overuse them in order to avoid run-off
  • Try to limit consumption of crops likely sprayed with glyphosate (unfortunately, this means most non-organic foods)
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    While the risk of glyphosate in your tap water is likely low if your water is treated by a municipality, well water owners near lawns, gardens, and farms that use herbicides may want to test their water for glyphosate. Tap Score offers a glyphosate test to add-on to any of our essential or advanced water testing kits.

    For more information about other water quality issues, take a look at our blog, Tips For Taps, or email us at hello@simplewater.us!

    It's hard to get trustworthy advice when it comes to your drinking water, so we made Tips for Taps to help answer your questions. Order a Tap Score Water Test and receive personalized support from professional engineers and scientists by phone, email and chat.

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