The number of toxic chemicals the average American is exposed to on a regular basis would probably surprise many people. Toxic chemicals can be found in our food, in our water, in household cleaning chemicals and other household items, on the job, in consumer products, and in the air we breathe. Most of the time, the chemical exposure we get is relatively small. Even small, repeated exposure can add up to cause problems, though.
While federal regulators routinely monitor and enforce limitations on the use of certain chemicals known to be harmful, there are a lot of chemicals out there which can cause harm but which are not regulated, or at least not regulated very heavily. One of the chemicals that may fit into this category, depending on how you interpret the science, is glyphosate.
Glyphosate is a pesticide used in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller and in other herbicide and crop desiccant applications. The EPA regulates glyphosate by establishing tolerances for residues in or on various commodities. Tolerances can and do change from time to time. Back in 2013, the EPA raised the permitted tolerance levels for glyphosate in various foods.
Glyphosate is controversial because of concerns that it may contribute to chronic illnesses and the development of cancer. That concern was raised in findings by the United Nations International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015, basing itself on human, animal and cell studies. The finding was rejected by Monsanto, not surprisingly, and other industry representatives. Other studies have pointed to glyphosate’s potential interference with antibiotic effectiveness and hormone functioning.
While there is a fairly general consensus that there are few, if any, immediate consequences to glyphosate exposure, the big question is what the health effects are of low level exposure over long periods of time. These effects are harder to measure.
In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this issue and what consumers should know about EPA regulation of pesticides and their legal rights.
EPA, Regulation of Pesticide Residues on Food, Accessed Feb. 7, 2017.
GMAinside.org, “EPA raises levels of glyphosate residue allowed in food,” Shireen, July 22, 2013.
National Geographic, “What Do We Really Know About Roundup Weed Killer?,” Elizabeth Grossman, April 23, 2015.