The environmental legacy of Vietnam War herbicide weapons


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U.S. planes sprayed herbicide over the Vietnam jungle in the 1960s (flickr). 

Julia Poska | March 1, 2019

Forty-four years since the fall of Saigon, chemical weapons still exist in Vietnamese ecosystems. A new study from the University of Illinois and Iowa State University assessed the environmental impacts of one especially persistent chemical byproduct.

“Agent Orange,” banned in the U.S. since 1971, was a combination of two herbicides sprayed from U.S. aircraft to thin out the jungle and destroy crops. Individually, the herbicides would have disappeared in just days, but together they produced “TCDD,” a highly toxic dioxin can last over 100 years in the right conditions.

Illinois’ Ken Olson, professor emeritus of environmental science, and Iowa State professor of sociology Lois Wright Morton sorted through previous research and humanitarian reports on contaminated Vietnam air bases. They were able to determine TCDD’s paths through the environment, as well as “hotspots” where it still enters the human food supply.

They found that TCDD destroyed Vietnam’s mangroves and mature forests, which may not return to their previous condition for centuries and are now plagued with invasive species. In sprayed areas, runoff, soil erosion and landslides degrade soil, change topography and spread TCDD even further.

Researchers believe that TCDD persists longest in river and sea sediment. TCDD at the bottom of waterbodies is still eaten by bottom-feeding fish and stored in their fatty tissues. The toxin bioaccumulates and biomagnifies in the fatty tissues of their predators when the fish are eaten by humans or other animals.

According to the World Health Institute, the health effects of consuming dioxins like TCDD include skin lesions, altered liver function, and impairment of the immune, nervous, endocrine and reproductive systems.

Olson and Wright Morton advise that the only way to destroy TCDD is to incinerate contaminated soils and sediments.

 

On The Radio – California lists glyphosate as a carcinogen


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Glyphosate is an active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup. (Mike Mozart/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 18, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how some farm groups are suing California for considering glyphosate a cancer causing chemical. 

Transcript: Iowa and a dozen other state farm groups are suing California for listing glyphosate as a cancer causing chemical.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

California’s Proposition 65 law from 1986 requires the state to protect drinking water from chemicals that can cause cancer or reproductive harm. And businesses must warn their users about potential chemical danger.

Glyphosate is a herbicide used in 250 crops and a key ingredient in Monsanto’s top selling weed killer, RoundUp. Back in 2016 Monsanto sued California to block the glyphosate listing but in July of this year, California made the decision to list glyphosate as a carcinogen.

This decision will cost Iowa farmers around 5 billion dollars. Crops with glyphosate will have to be separated, meaning extra time and labor costs not to mention a drastic drop in sales. Products with even trace amounts of glyphosate will be required to be labeled by 2018 in the state of California.

Glyphosate is believed to be one of the safer herbicides. It was approved by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the 1970s and is frequently re-tested. However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer determined glyphosate as a potential cancer causing substance in 2015.

The debate about glyphosate and its effects on human health will likely continue following California’s actions.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Roundup herbicide found in Cheerios, among other best-selling American food products


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Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready herbicide, has been detected at high levels in Original Cheerios, Honeynut Cheerios and many other American food products. (Nicholas Erwin/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 16, 2016

The active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready herbicide, glyphosate, has been detected at high levels in a variety of best-selling food products in the United States.

Researchers with U.S. Food Democracy Now! and The Detox Project used liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) to perform the first independent glyphosate residue testing of popular American food products. The results reveal alarmingly high levels of glyphosate in food products such as Cheerios, Wheaties, Special K, Doritos and Kashi products, among many others.

These results were published shortly after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency postponed hearings which were to explore glyphosate’s link to cancer in humans. In 2015, the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as a class 2A “probable carcinogen.”

Dave Murphy, Executive Director of Food Democracy Now!, said, “Frankly, such a high level of glyphosate contamination found in Cheerios, Doritos, Oreos and Stacy’s Pita Chips are alarming and should be a wake-up call for any parent trying to feed their children safe, healthy and non-toxic food.”

Use of glyphosate-based herbicides has been growing steadily over the last 20 years. According to one study by Environmental Sciences Europe, the United States has applied 1.8 million tons of the chemical since its introduction to the market in 1974. Independent peer-reviewed research has shown that exposure of glyphosate at 0.05 parts per billion (ppb) can alter gene function in the liver and kidneys of rats over the course of two years. Glyphosate was detected at 1,125.3 ppb in Original Cheerios.

Murphy added, “It’s time for regulators at the EPA and the White House to stop playing politics with our food and start putting the wellbeing of the American public above the profits of chemical companies like Monsanto.”

The Environmental Protection Agency set the allowable daily glyphosate intake at 1.75 milligrams per kilogram of body weight in the 1970’s and 80’s, following the results of industry-funded studies. Researchers with U.S. Food Democracy Now! and The Detox Project call for the allowable daily intake to be reduced to 0.025 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, twelve times lower than the current allowable limit.

Dr. Michael Antoniou, a molecular geneticist from London, reacted to the study. He said,

“With increasing evidence from a growing number of independent peer-reviewed studies from around the world showing that the ingestion of glyphosate-based herbicides like Roundup can result in a wide range of chronic illnesses, it’s urgent that regulators at the EPA reconsider the allowed levels of glyphosate in American’s food and work to limit continued exposure to this pervasive chemical in as large a section of the human population as possible.”

These findings add to local concerns regarding high amounts glyphosate residue found in Iowa’s Sue Bee honey. The Sioux City-based company is now facing ligation from Beyond Pesticides and the Organic Consumers Association for allegedly inaccurately labeling their products as “all-natural” and “100% pure.”

Lawsuit continues against Sioux City company for herbicide residue in honey


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Glyophosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, has been found in Iowa’s honey. (Mike Mozart/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 8, 2016

The Sioux Honey Association is being sued by two national advocacy groups for false advertising regarding the purity of its honey.

Beyond Pesticides and the Organic Consumers Association filed the lawsuit following the release of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study which noted the company’s Sue Bee Honey contains trace amounts of glyphosate, the active ingredient found in Roundup. The advocacy groups acknowledge that the herbicide residue may be the result of neighboring row crop farmers’ actions, but still find issue with what they say is false advertising. They said, “labeling and advertising of Sue Bee products as ‘Pure,’ ‘100% Pure,’ ‘Natural,’ and ‘All-Natural’ is false, misleading and deceptive.” The Sioux Honey Association, founded in 1921, did not respond to requests for comment from the Des Moines Register.

The lawsuit also calls for increased government oversight over glyphosate levels in honey. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not yet set the maximum levels of glyphosate herbicide residue allowable to ensure consumer safety. In contrast, the European Union’s maximum residue limit for the herbicide is 50 parts per billion. One Iowa honey sample in the FDA’s study contained 653 parts per billion.

Glyphosate’s effect on human health is unclear. In one email between FDA officials, representatives say that EPA evaluations have “confirmed that glyphosate is almost non-toxic to humans and animals.” However, The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, has deemed the herbicide “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Glyphosate contamination in Iowa is a complicated issue. Twenty-five million acres of row crop were planted this year, the majority of which were treated with Roundup and other herbicides. Iowa’s 4,500 beekeepers face challenges finding safe locations for their hives. Andrew Joseph is the state apiarist and a beekeeper. He said, “I don’t think there’s anywhere that would be safe. I don’t think there’s any place for beekeepers to hide.” Joseph also said that any herbicide contamination is an issue for beekeepers, many of whom consider honey purity  to be a source of pride. Bees travel in about a three mile radius from their hives when pollinating, which can make limiting their exposure to contaminants difficult. Darren Cox, president of the American Honey Producers Association, said, “I don’t know how you would fix that,” he added, “Bees need agriculture, and agriculture needs bees.”

‘Iowa Watch’ article examines concerns with common Iowa herbicides


A tractor applied pesticide to a field. (Pieter van Marion/Flickr)
A tractor applies pesticide to a field. (Pieter van Marion/Flickr)
Nick Fetty | July 26, 2016

A recent article by Iowa Watch reporter Lauren Mills examines new research into the environmental and public health concerns of two herbicide chemicals commonly used in the Hawkeye State.

Atrazine and glyphosate – both of which are key ingredients in the herbicide Roundup – have come under scrutiny recently for their potential environmental and health impacts on humans. Earlier this month, California required that labels be placed on all products containing atrazine to warm consumers about the potential human health impacts of the chemical. Specifically, atrazine – the second-most commonly used pesticide in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture – has been linked to “birth defects, reduced male fertility and reproductive toxicities in women.”

Glyphosate – the most commonly used pesticide in the U.S. – was determined to be “probably carcinogenic to humans” in a 2015 report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization.

Last May in Iowa City, the Pesticide Action Network of North America released a report which outlined the impact that pesticide exposure has on children living in rural areas.

To read Lauren’s full piece, visit IowaWatch.orgIowa Watch is produced by the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism, an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan news service established in Iowa City in 2010.

Herbicide use increases


Photo by santheo, Flickr.

A new study has found that farmers are increasing their use of herbicides.

As we’ve reported before, heavy use of the herbicide Roundup led to the development of weeds resistant to the chemical – often referred to as “super weeds”.

As the super weeds become more prevalent, farmers are trying to deal with them by using more herbicide.

Listen to the report from Iowa Public Radio here.

ISU research links genetically modified crops to monarch butterfly decline


Photo by Dave Govoni (Va bene!), Flickr.

Earlier this year, research conducted by the University of Minnesota and Iowa State University linked the declining monarch butterfly population to the rise in genetically modified crops.

Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed, which used to often be present on the edges of cornfields. The caterpillars then feed exclusively off of the milkweed.

However, since the introduction of crops that can withstand heavy herbicide use, more herbicide has been used on farms and milkweed has disappeared. Without this food source, caterpillars struggle to survive.

Read more here.