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Will Richmond Reject Monsanto's Roundup? The Case for Banning Glyphosate

Monday, 23 February 2015 11:51 By Jeff Ritterman, M.D., Truthout | News Analysis
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Richmond, CaliforniaRichmond, California. (Photo: Wikipedia; Edited: JR/TO)

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On Tuesday, February 24, the Richmond City Council voted unanimously to ban all pesticide use (which includes herbicides) by city departments. The city will work with the community and schools to encourage residents and the school district to abandon pesticide use in favor of less toxic methods of weed control.

In July of 2012, the city of Richmond, California, adopted an Integrated Pest Management Ordinance to guide the work of city departments tasked with weed and pest control. The ordinance championed Integrated Pest Management (IMP) as the solution of choice. Pesticide use is to be considered only after all other means of control have failed. The ordinance states:

"Pesticides shall be used only as a last resort following other feasible IPM efforts including cultural, mechanical, and biological methods. When it is deemed necessary to use pesticides, the least-toxic pesticides shall be used."

While the existing IPM Ordinance is intended to decrease pesticide use significantly, it allows pesticide use under certain circumstances. This has created confusion for city staff and concern from residents and community members who have observed the continuation of pesticide application in their neighborhoods. Lead by retired epidemiologist Juan Reardon, MD, MPH, the residents asked the Richmond mayor and city council members to make the language very clear and put an end to any confusion.

To clarify the ordinance and protect the health of the community, Tuesday, the Richmond City Council will consider a 12-month ban on all toxic pesticides, including glyphosate. To address the costs and effectiveness of more environmentally friendly control techniques, the city staff will do a comprehensive review of the ban after it has been in effect for 12 months. Given the progressive makeup of the Richmond City Council, the pesticide ban is expected to pass.

The scientific basis for banning glyphosate is detailed below.

(Photo: Vivien Feyer)(Photo: Vivien Feyer)

The History of Glyphosate

Glyphosate was originally patented by the Stauffer Chemical Company in 1964. The chemical is a powerful chelating agent. It avidly binds to metals. It is this chelating property that led to glyphosate's first use as a descaling agent to clean out mineral deposits from the pipes in boilers and other hot water systems. It is also this ability to bind to metals that allows glyphosate-metal complexes to persist in the soil for decades. This chelating property also underlies the hypothesis that glyphosate-metal complexes are the cause of a fatal chronic kidney disease epidemic ravaging Central America, Sri Lanka and parts of India.

In the 1970s, John Franz, a scientist working for Monsanto, discovered glyphosate's usefulness as an herbicide. Monsanto patented glyphosate as an herbicide and has marketed the chemical as "Roundup" since 1974. Glyphosate is now the world's most widely used herbicide.

Glyphosate's popularity has been due, in part, to the perception that it is extremely safe. The Monsanto website claims:

Misleading Roundup advertisement claiming that Roundup is safe because it targets an enzyme not present in humans or pets. No mention is made of the many enzyme systems in humans that glyphosate does impact. (Photo: Vivien Feyer)Misleading Roundup advertisement claiming that Roundup is safe because it targets an enzyme not present in humans or pets. No mention is made of the many enzyme systems in humans that glyphosate does impact. (Photo: Vivien Feyer)"Glyphosate binds tightly to most types of soil so it is not available for uptake by roots of nearby plants. It works by disrupting a plant enzyme involved in the production of amino acids that are essential to plant growth. The enzyme, EPSP synthase, is not present in humans or animals, contributing to the low risk to human health from the use of glyphosate according to label directions."

The enzymatic pathway that includes EPSP synthase is known as the shikimate pathway. It is used by bacteria, fungi and plants to synthesize the aromatic amino acids, phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan. Since animals do not possess this pathway, these amino acids are called essential amino acids, meaning we must ingest them because we don't have the pathway to make them.

Monsanto continues to advertise that glyphosate is safe for humans and our pets because neither has the shikimate pathway, and therefore we should not be impacted by glyphosate. Our gastrointestinal bacteria do, however, possess this pathway and glyphosate can therefore be toxic to these bacteria. We will return to this concern later. Before doing so, let's examine glyphosate's effects on other enzymatic pathways that humans and other animals do possess.

Glyphosate Causes Birth Defects, Spontaneous Abortions in Animals

Contrary to Monsanto's claims of safety, a virtual avalanche of scientific studies on animals, including some funded by Monsanto itself, show alarming incidences of fetal deaths and birth defects in animals exposed to glyphosate. The record also shows that Monsanto has known since the 1980s that glyphosate in high doses causes malformations in experimental animals. Since 1993, the company has been aware that even middle and low doses can cause these birth defects. These abnormalities include absent kidneys and lungs, enlarged hearts, extra ribs, and missing and abnormally formed bones of the limbs, ribs, sternum, spine and skull.

Chaco is Argentina's poorest province and a region of intensive glyphosate spraying. Records from the neonatal service at Chaco's Perrando Hospital show that birth defects increased fourfold, from 19.1 to 85.3 per 10,000 in the decade after intensive herbicide use was introduced.

These startling revelations can be found in the report "Roundup and Birth Defects: Is the Public Being Kept in the Dark?" The document is authored by eight experts from the fields of molecular genetics, agro-ecology, toxico-pathology, scientific ethics, ecological agriculture, plant genetics, public health and cell biology. This report, written primarily for a European readership, is highly critical of the biotech industry and of the European Union's failure to evaluate glyphosate based on the science rather than on political concerns. It calls for an immediate withdrawal of Roundup and glyphosate from the European Union until a thorough scientific evaluation is done on the herbicide. From the report:

"The public has been kept in the dark by industry and regulators about the ability of glyphosate and Roundup to cause malformations. In addition, the work of independent scientists who have drawn attention to the herbicide's teratogenic effects has been ignored, denigrated or dismissed. These actions on the part of industry and regulators have endangered public health." (Authors note: A teratogen is any agent that can disturb the development of an embryo or a fetus. The term stems from the Greek teras, meaning monster).

Farm Animals

When Danish pig farmer Ibn Bjorn Pedersen began feeding his pigs genetically modified (GM) soy contaminated with glyphosate, the rate of birth defects soared. Piglets were being born without an ear, with only one large eye, with a large hole in the skull, and with a monstrously large "elephant tongue." A female piglet was born with testes and still others had malformed limbs, spines, skulls and gastrointestinal tracts. The deformed piglets were sacrificed, and all of them tested positive for glyphosate in their tissues.

Humans

These birth defects in test animals and in Mr. Pedersen's pigs were similar to those reported by humans living in Argentina, where glyphosate is sprayed heavily from airplanes as part of GM soy production.

The Gatica family resides in the barrio of Ituzaingó, in the Córdoba region of Argentina, only 50 meters (55 yards) away from fields of GM soy. Airplanes would regularly fly overhead, spraying glyphosate on the crops. In the mid-1990s, Sofia Gatica's oldest son became extremely ill. She recalls:

"When he was 4 years old, he came down with the illness that left him temporarily paralyzed. He was admitted to the hospital. They told me that they didn't know what was wrong with him."

In 1999, Sofia Gatica gave birth to a baby girl. The infant died of kidney failure on her third day of life. This tragedy prompted the grieving mother to take action. Sofia went door-to-door, collecting information on the health of her community. Her survey uncovered an unusually high rate of birth defects and cancer:

"Children were being born with deformities, little babies were being born with six fingers, without a jawbone, missing a skull bone, with kidney deformities, without an anus - and a lot of mothers and fathers were developing cancer."

She shared her findings with her friends and neighbors. Soon a group formed, calling itself the Mothers of Ituzaingó. In 2012 Sofia Gatica was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work protecting her community from glyphosate toxicity.

A group of Argentine doctors, alarmed by the increases in birth defects and cancer, joined the Mothers of Ituzaingó. These concerned physicians formed Doctors of Fumigated Towns, which held its first national conference in August of 2010 in Córdoba, Argentina, a farming area where glyphosate is heavily and repeatedly sprayed. The Department of Medical Sciences of the National University at Córdoba sponsored the conference. Some 160 doctors from throughout the country attended.

Dr. Medardo Avila Vazquez, a pediatrician and environmental health expert, explained his concerns:

"The change in how agriculture is produced has brought, frankly, a change in the profile of diseases. We've gone from a pretty healthy population to one with a high rate of cancer, birth defects and illnesses seldom seen before. There are more than 12 million people affected by fumigation (pesticide spraying) in the country. In these areas, the rate of birth defects is four times higher than in the cities."

Chaco is Argentina's poorest province and a region of intensive glyphosate spraying. Records from the neonatal service at Chaco's Perrando Hospital show that birth defects increased fourfold, from 19.1 to 85.3 per 10,000 in the decade after intensive herbicide use was introduced.

Scientist Proves How Glyphosate Causes Birth Defects

The experimental animal studies, the observations in farm animals and the epidemiological studies in humans are all consistent with glyphosate causing birth defects. How could this be possible if glyphosate only affects the EPSP Synthase enzyme that animals do not possess? Dr. Andres Carrasco, an embryologist and the former director of the molecular embryology laboratory at the University of Buenos Aires, demonstrated exactly how glyphosate causes birth defects.

Dr. Carrasco experimented with frog and chicken embryos. In each case, he was able to show that glyphosate produced birth defects similar to those seen in humans. In addition, Dr. Andrés Carrasco was able to demonstrate exactly how glyphosate caused the birth defects.

"The concentration of glyphosate needed to cause these errors was 500 to 4,000 times lower than the dose to which humans may be exposed by aerial spraying or handling of the herbicide."

He suspected that glyphosate caused an abnormal hyperactivity in the Vitamin A pathway. The Vitamin A signaling pathway is present in all vertebrates from the very earliest stages of embryonic development. It turns on certain genes and turns off others. This essential pathway acts like a conductor, orchestrating the symphony of embryological development. There is no room for error. Genes must be turned on and off at precisely the right instant in exact sequence. Any disturbance of the Vitamin A pathway can result in birth defects. It is because of the enhanced risk of birth defects that pregnant women are advised not to take any Vitamin A (retinoic acid) containing medications.

When Dr. Carrasco added a chemical inhibitor to his experiments, he was able to block the glyphosate-induced hyperactivity in the Vitamin A pathway. The birth defects no longer appeared. Mystery solved! Glyphosate had caused birth defects by over-stimulating the Vitamin A pathway. Since this pathway is present in all vertebrates, it follows that glyphosate has the capacity to cause birth defects in fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.

Glyphosate and the Risk of Cancer

Epidemiologic studies from the areas in Latin America where glyphosate is sprayed heavily have consistently shown spikes in cancer incidence. Other epidemiological studies have implicated glyphosate in brain cancer in children and in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In addition, laboratory studies of many kinds, as well as animal feeding studies, have repeatedly linked glyphosate to cancer. A number of these studies are reviewed below.

Glyphosate Causes DNA Damage, Induces Errors in Cell Division

Cancer is a complex process. One of the initial steps is damage to our DNA. Each of our cells gets its operating instructions from the DNA. If the DNA is damaged and not repaired, the now-faulty operating instructions can program cells to divide rapidly and chaotically. When this happens, cells become transformed into cancers.

Cells are also vulnerable to being transformed into cancers during cell division. Normal cells copy our DNA precisely. Each daughter cell receives from its parent cell an identical copy of the DNA. If a mistake is made during this process, the daughter cells will receive faulty DNA copies and, as a result, these cells can turn cancerous.

Since both DNA damage and errors made during cell division can lead to cancer, scientists have studied whether glyphosate can cause these abnormalities.

A large number of experiments in different species have shown glyphosate to cause DNA damage. Fruit fly larvae exposed to glyphosate developed lethal DNA damage. Mice injected with glyphosate and with Roundup showed an increased frequency of DNA damage in the bone marrow, liver, and kidneys. Roundup damaged the DNA in blood cells of the European eel at environmentally realistic concentrations. When lymphocytes from cows were exposed to glyphosate, the herbicide also caused DNA damage.

Scientists often study cell division in sea urchin embryos. In a study done in 2004, researchers from the National Scientific Research Center and the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in France exposed sea urchin embryos to glyphosate. The herbicide caused significant errors in cell division. The scientists commented that these abnormalities are hallmarks of cancer and delivered a particularly chilling warning:

"The concentration of glyphosate needed to cause these errors was 500 to 4,000 times lower than the dose to which humans may be exposed by aerial spraying or handling of the herbicide."

Glyphosate Causes DNA Damage in Humans

Dr. Fernando Manas, a biologist at the National University of Rio Cuarto in Argentina, has been investigating the effects of pesticides for years. He believes that glyphosate spraying is causing cancer by inducing DNA damage. His research has documented genetic damage in those exposed. When Dr. Manas studied pesticide sprayers working in the soy industry in Córdoba, Argentina he found significantly more DNA damage in their lymphocytes than in those of an unexposed group of controls. Glyphosate was one of the most commonly used pesticides.

Dr. Manas commented on the implications of his research: "The increased frequency of chromosomal aberrations found in rural workers compared with the reference group highlights the risk posed by exposure to pesticides on the health of this population."

Genetics researchers from the Pontifical Catholic University in Quito, Ecuador evaluated Ecuadorians living in the Sucumbíos district in northern Ecuador for evidence of DNA damage. This area was heavily sprayed with glyphosate by the Colombian government to eradicate illicit crops. Those exposed to the herbicide developed a number of acute symptoms, including abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, heart palpitations, headaches, dizziness, numbness, insomnia, depression, shortness of breath, blurred vision, burning of eyes, blisters and rash. When compared to a control group, they also showed significantly more DNA damage.

Glyphosate Increases Cancer Growth in Tissue Culture Studies

In addition to the DNA and cell division research, scientists have explored glyphosate's association with cancer in tissue culture studies. In these experiments, researchers grow cells on a small dish with nutrients and add various chemicals to test their effects.

In 2010, researchers in India exposed mouse skin cells grown in tissue culture to glyphosate. When the herbicide was added, the cells became cancerous.

Scientists in Thailand studied the impact of glyphosate on human estrogen-responsive breast cancer cells in tissue culture. They published their results in 2013. Hormone-responsive breast cancer cells are known to grow when exposed to estrogen. Glyphosate also stimulated these cells to grow. The herbicide was able to bind to the cancer's estrogen receptors, thus mimicking the effects of estrogen and accelerating tumor growth. Scientists refer to this as "endocrine disruption." An endocrine disruptor is a chemical that can mimic or block a hormone. Because hormones work as chemical messengers at very low doses, even a minute dose of an endocrine disruptor can lead to serious illness.

Glyphosate Causes Cancer in Test Animals

Glyphosate's effects have been assessed in studies with a variety of test animals for more than three decades.

One of the earliest studies was done in 1979-1981, under the auspices of the United Nations Environmental Program, the International Labor Organization and the World Health Organization. Rats exposed to low levels of the herbicide developed testicular cancer. A larger dose did not produce the cancer. Unfortunately, at the time of the experiment, it was not understood that certain substances have more potent effects at lower doses than at higher doses. The evaluators erroneously dismissed the results.

In a study from the Institute of Biology at the University of Caen in France, researchers studied glyphosate's effects on rats. Originally published in 2012, the resulting report was retracted after the biotech agriculture industry complained. After extensive review failed to show any fraud or problem with the data, the report was re-published in 2014. In this study, glyphosate was shown to double the incidence of mammary gland tumors. These cancers developed much faster in rats exposed to glyphosate than in controls. There was also an increase in cancers of the pituitary gland.

Glyphosate Linked to Cancer in Humans

In keeping with the studies demonstrating glyphosate's ability to damage DNA, to disturb cell division, to enhance cancer growth in tissue culture, and to produce cancers in live animals, human epidemiologic studies show a link between glyphosate and cancer.

Argentine physicians working in areas in which glyphosate is heavily sprayed have reported significant increases in cancer incidence. In Sante Fe province, which is an area of intensive herbicide spraying, a house-to-house epidemiological study of 65,000 people found cancer rates two to four times higher than the national average. Two villages in Chaco province also raised concerns about glyphosate's association with cancer. Residents of the heavily sprayed farming village of Avia Terai were compared to their peers in the non-sprayed ranching village of Charadai. In the farming village, 31 percent of residents had a family member with cancer while only 3 percent of residents in the ranching village had one.

Dr. Avila Vasquez, a doctor working in the heavily sprayed region of Barrio Ituzaingo, noted that cancer was responsible for 33 percent of the deaths in the region, while the cancer death rate in the big cities was only 19 percent.

Studies done on the gut bacteria of cows, horses, and poultry have shown that glyphosate readily kills off many beneficial bacteria, but many highly pathogenic bacteria are glyphosate resistant.

There is also epidemiologic evidence from studies done in developed countries linking glyphosate to cancer. Scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have analyzed studies spanning almost three decades. The IARC is the branch of the World Health Organization that promotes cancer research. Scientists throughout the world with skills in epidemiology, laboratory sciences and biostatistics are brought together to identify the causes of cancer so that preventive measures may be instituted. The agency views cancers as linked, directly or indirectly, to environmental factors. They have found a positive association between organo-phosphorus herbicides, like glyphosate, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The B cell lymphoma sub-type was strongly associated with glyphosate exposure.

Glyphosate Linked to Brain Cancer in Children

The linkage to lymphoma is the most recent research raising concerns about glyphosate's connection to cancer. Scientists from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a branch of the US Department of Health and Human Services, specialize in illnesses caused by toxic substances. They published the results of the US Atlantic Coast Childhood Brain Cancer Study in 2009. Children with brain cancer from Florida, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania were compared to age-matched controls. The researchers found that if either parent had been exposed to glyphosate during the two years before the child's birth, the chances of the child developing brain cancer doubled.

Glyphosate and Additional Serious Illnesses

Glyphosate's ability to produce birth defects and its association with cancer show that the herbicide actively impacts a number of important biological processes. Scientists have uncovered some of these. This work may have far-reaching implications for human health.

Dr. Carrasco showed that glyphosate causes birth defects in vertebrates by interfering with the Vitamin A signaling pathway. This pathway is part of a much larger enzyme system known as the "Cytochrome P450" system. This enzyme system is present in most tissues of our bodies. It is an extremely important and complex system, responsible for inactivating toxic compounds and metabolizing medications. The Cytochrome P450 system is also important in the metabolism of sex hormones, cholesterol and Vitamin D. Glyphosate interferes with several of the enzymes in this vital system.

One of the enzymes that glyphosate inhibits is aromatase. This enzyme converts testosterone to estrogen. The testosterone-estrogen balance is fundamental to normal functioning. Glyphosate can mimic estrogen by binding to estrogen receptors, as we saw in the case of glyphosate's ability to accelerate breast cancer cell growth in tissue culture. The herbicide can also prevent the chemical conversion of testosterone to estrogen. Glyphosate's interference with aromatase may explain its association with impaired fertility. Clearly, these endocrine disrupting effects are cause for concern.

Glyphosate is also toxic to many of our gut bacteria. These bacteria are important for human health. The bacteria live symbiotically with humans. The human digestive tract provides a friendly environment, full of nutrients for the bacteria. In exchange, the bacteria perform a number of essential functions, including the synthesis of vitamins, the detoxification of foreign substances, aid with immunity, help with digestion and maintenance of the normal permeability of the gastrointestinal tract.

When glyphosate kills off certain of these helpful gut bacteria, other bacteria grow, and those other bacteria may be harmful. Studies done on the gut bacteria of cows, horses, and poultry have shown that glyphosate readily kills off many beneficial bacteria, but many highly pathogenic bacteria are glyphosate resistant. The loss of the protective bacteria may make us vulnerable to leaky gut syndrome, ulcerative colitis and other gastrointestinal maladies.

Researchers found that chronically ill humans have significantly higher glyphosate residues in their urine when compared to healthy people.

Researchers have suggested that the overgrowth of harmful bacteria can cause a deficiency in essential amino acids and in necessary metals, like zinc and sulfur. The change in bacterial flora may also lead to the overproduction of ammonia. The consequences of these changes have not yet been shown to definitively cause illness. Since glyphosate is not tested for in our food supply nor by health-care providers caring for the sick, definitively implicating glyphosate in the etiology of diseases has been difficult. There is concern, however, that a large number of chronic diseases including neurological illnesses may be triggered or exacerbated by these changes in amino acid, ammonia and metal concentrations.

The depletion of amino acids, for example, can result in abnormally low levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin regulates mood, appetite and sleep. Its depletion may lead to depression, insomnia and disorders of appetite, like obesity and anorexia. Dopamine depletion in a key brain area is the hallmark of Parkinson's disease.

Elevated ammonia levels are seen in children with autism. Sulfur deficiency has been associated with autism, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Zinc deficiency, too, has been associated with autism and Alzheimer's disease, and also with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders.

An interesting finding from a study at the University of Leipzig showed an unexpected association between chronic illness and glyphosate exposure. The researchers tested urine from humans. They found that chronically ill humans have significantly higher glyphosate residues in their urine when compared to healthy people.

Glyphosate and Kidney Disease

Another chronic illness may have a direct link to glyphosate. Peasant farmers exposed to pesticides in Central America, India and Sri Lanka have developed a new and fatal kidney ailment. The cause has been difficult to pin down. The illness has become known as "Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology (CKDu)."

CKDu is now the second-leading cause of death among men in El Salvador. This small Central American nation has the highest kidney disease mortality rate in the world. Neighboring Honduras and Nicaragua also have extremely high rates of death from kidney disease. More men in El Salvador and Nicaragua are dying from CKDu than from HIV/AIDS, diabetes and leukemia combined. In one area of rural Nicaragua, so many men have died that the community is called "the Island of the Widows."

India and Sri Lanka have also been hit hard by the epidemic. More than 20,000 have died from CKDu in the past two decades in Sri Lanka. In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, more than 1,500 have been treated for the ailment since 2007.

While the exact cause of the kidney ailment remains under investigation, a leading hypothesis is that glyphosate-metal complexes are to blame. It appears that glyphosate's chelating properties give the chemical the ability to form complexes with heavy metals that can be readily absorbed through the skin, inhaled or ingested. Scientists are concerned that these glyphosate-metal complexes can travel through the bloodstream to the kidney and destroy the kidney tubule, leading to renal failure and often death. Invoking the "Precautionary Principle," both the governments of El Salvador and Sri Lanka have instituted bans on glyphosate.

Glyphosate in Air, Water, and Soil

Glyphosate and its degradation product amino-methyl-phosphonic acid have been found in air, rain, groundwater, surface water, seawater and soil. These studies show that glyphosate persists in soil and water for prolonged periods of time. In addition, the amount of glyphosate detected in samples is increasing over time. The chemical is accumulating in our environment. It also accumulates in animal tissue. A study done at the University of Leipzig in 2014 showed that cows were excreting glyphosate in their urine. These cows also had comparable levels of the herbicide in their organs (kidney, liver, lung, spleen, muscle, intestine), proving that meat and dairy are a source of glyphosate for humans.

Is There a Safe Glyphosate Dose?

Proponents of glyphosate use argue that in small doses there is no harm. This line of thinking is currently out of date. It was once thought that there was a linear relationship between the dose of a chemical and its effects. The higher the dose, the greater the expected impact. We now know that this is not true for a large number of chemicals, particularly endocrine disruptors. In addition, we know that glyphosate bio-accumulates in our bodies. Studies in cows show that the levels of glyphosate in urine are similar to their organ glyphosate levels. We can expect this to be true in humans as well. Given glyphosate's ability to bio-accumulate, as well as its known endocrine disrupting properties, there is no reason to assume that low doses of glyphosate are safe.

Conclusion

When a substance has significant known toxicities, the only justification for its continued use is that greater harm will accrue if it is not used. Many suitable, less-toxic alternatives to glyphosate use exist for weed control. It is exceedingly difficult to imagine any scenario where a glyphosate ban would in any way endanger the residents of Richmond, or any other city. Conversely, there is a large and growing literature showing an increasing number of serious health risks related to glyphosate exposure including birth defects, cancers and a dizzying array of chronic illnesses.

It is well within the purview of Richmond’s City Council to ban glyphosate from city use due to its potential to cause serious health problems. Given that the knowledge of glyphosate's toxicity has been documented repeatedly, continued glyphosate use by the city could conceivably make Richmond liable for any adverse health outcome that could be traced to municipal use of the herbicide.

A ban on glyphosate by city departments will also have collateral benefits. A public discussion of pesticide toxicity will warn local residents to consider safer alternatives of weed control. In addition, other cities will learn of glyphosate's toxicity and hopefully take similar steps to protect their residents.

The ultimate goal is the creation of a sustainable, pesticide-free city. In the words of the great Indian environmental activist, Vandana Shiva:

"We will continue to create the other world that we are sowing, seed-by-seed, inch-by-inch of soil, person-by-person, community-by-community, until all of this planet is embraced in one circle of a resurgent life and a resurgent love."

Following Richmond's Example

Ask your city or county to follow Richmond's example and to make your region pesticide free. You can start by prohibiting pesticide use by city departments and outside contractors. Once you have your own house in order, you can encourage your local school district, residents, and businesses to join the campaign to make your region pesticide free.

Here is a sample resolution you can share with your city council:

WHEREAS, several of the pesticides being used by city departments tasked with weed and pest control contain the toxin glyphosate;

WHEREAS, there is documented evidence that exposure to glyphosate causes birth defects, fetal deaths, cancer, DNA damage, and other serious illnesses;

WHEREAS, there is no safe dose of exposure to glyphosate because it persists in soil, water, and animal tissue for prolonged periods of time, so even low levels of exposure could still be harmful to humans, animals, and the environment;

WHEREAS, the City Council wishes to implement a twelve-month pilot prohibiting city employees and their contractors from using pesticides;

WHEREAS, the City Council wishes to receive a report that details, among other things, how much more expensive and labor intensive it is to not use pesticides.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the Council of the City of _______, that beginning on the effective date of this resolution, that all weed abatement activities conducted by the city employees and their contractors shall not involve the use of any pesticides;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City Council, the City Manager, and the IPM [Integrated Pest Management] coordinator shall not grant any exemptions to allow the use of pesticides in the eradication of invasive or noxious weeds, during the pilot;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that all purchases by the city of pesticides shall end immediately, and any remaining stock of pesticides shall be disposed immediately following the city’s hazardous waste disposal protocols;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that city staff from the Environmental and Health Initiatives Division within the City Manager’s Office, in coordination with the Department of Public Works and the Finance Department, shall produce a report to the City Council evaluating the impacts on cost and weed control; the efficacy of non-chemical methods including weed burners, mowing and line trimmers, vinegar, goats and other non-chemical methods; and attitudinal changes of residents towards pesticide use and weed control;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the report shall be due to the ______ City Council upon the conclusion of the pilot;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City Manager’s Office prepare and disseminate information to educate _________ residents and businesses about the harmful effects of using toxic pesticides such as those containing glyphosate;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City of ________ will encourage the _____________ School District to join this prohibition on pesticides containing glyphosate, and calls on the ____________ School District to educate employees, students, and parents about the harmful effects of using toxic pesticides such as those containing glyphosate;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this prohibition on the use of products containing glyphosate shall continue until the City Council decides further action;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this resolution becomes effective immediately upon approval by the _________ City Council;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that city staff shall immediately notify all contractors performing weed abatement;

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that city staff shall use all feasible and affordable means at its disposal to alert residents about the city’s decision to end its use of pesticides, and to encourage residents to follow the city’s example.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Jeff Ritterman, M.D.

Jeff Ritterman, M.D. is vice president of the board of directors of the SF Bay Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. He is the retired chief of cardiology at Kaiser Richmond and a former Richmond, California, city councilman. Follow him on Twitter @JeffRitterman.


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Will Richmond Reject Monsanto's Roundup? The Case for Banning Glyphosate

Monday, 23 February 2015 11:51 By Jeff Ritterman, M.D., Truthout | News Analysis
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Richmond, CaliforniaRichmond, California. (Photo: Wikipedia; Edited: JR/TO)

This story could not have been published without the support of readers like you. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and fund more stories like it!

On Tuesday, February 24, the Richmond City Council voted unanimously to ban all pesticide use (which includes herbicides) by city departments. The city will work with the community and schools to encourage residents and the school district to abandon pesticide use in favor of less toxic methods of weed control.

In July of 2012, the city of Richmond, California, adopted an Integrated Pest Management Ordinance to guide the work of city departments tasked with weed and pest control. The ordinance championed Integrated Pest Management (IMP) as the solution of choice. Pesticide use is to be considered only after all other means of control have failed. The ordinance states:

"Pesticides shall be used only as a last resort following other feasible IPM efforts including cultural, mechanical, and biological methods. When it is deemed necessary to use pesticides, the least-toxic pesticides shall be used."

While the existing IPM Ordinance is intended to decrease pesticide use significantly, it allows pesticide use under certain circumstances. This has created confusion for city staff and concern from residents and community members who have observed the continuation of pesticide application in their neighborhoods. Lead by retired epidemiologist Juan Reardon, MD, MPH, the residents asked the Richmond mayor and city council members to make the language very clear and put an end to any confusion.

To clarify the ordinance and protect the health of the community, Tuesday, the Richmond City Council will consider a 12-month ban on all toxic pesticides, including glyphosate. To address the costs and effectiveness of more environmentally friendly control techniques, the city staff will do a comprehensive review of the ban after it has been in effect for 12 months. Given the progressive makeup of the Richmond City Council, the pesticide ban is expected to pass.

The scientific basis for banning glyphosate is detailed below.

(Photo: Vivien Feyer)(Photo: Vivien Feyer)

The History of Glyphosate

Glyphosate was originally patented by the Stauffer Chemical Company in 1964. The chemical is a powerful chelating agent. It avidly binds to metals. It is this chelating property that led to glyphosate's first use as a descaling agent to clean out mineral deposits from the pipes in boilers and other hot water systems. It is also this ability to bind to metals that allows glyphosate-metal complexes to persist in the soil for decades. This chelating property also underlies the hypothesis that glyphosate-metal complexes are the cause of a fatal chronic kidney disease epidemic ravaging Central America, Sri Lanka and parts of India.

In the 1970s, John Franz, a scientist working for Monsanto, discovered glyphosate's usefulness as an herbicide. Monsanto patented glyphosate as an herbicide and has marketed the chemical as "Roundup" since 1974. Glyphosate is now the world's most widely used herbicide.

Glyphosate's popularity has been due, in part, to the perception that it is extremely safe. The Monsanto website claims:

Misleading Roundup advertisement claiming that Roundup is safe because it targets an enzyme not present in humans or pets. No mention is made of the many enzyme systems in humans that glyphosate does impact. (Photo: Vivien Feyer)Misleading Roundup advertisement claiming that Roundup is safe because it targets an enzyme not present in humans or pets. No mention is made of the many enzyme systems in humans that glyphosate does impact. (Photo: Vivien Feyer)"Glyphosate binds tightly to most types of soil so it is not available for uptake by roots of nearby plants. It works by disrupting a plant enzyme involved in the production of amino acids that are essential to plant growth. The enzyme, EPSP synthase, is not present in humans or animals, contributing to the low risk to human health from the use of glyphosate according to label directions."

The enzymatic pathway that includes EPSP synthase is known as the shikimate pathway. It is used by bacteria, fungi and plants to synthesize the aromatic amino acids, phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan. Since animals do not possess this pathway, these amino acids are called essential amino acids, meaning we must ingest them because we don't have the pathway to make them.

Monsanto continues to advertise that glyphosate is safe for humans and our pets because neither has the shikimate pathway, and therefore we should not be impacted by glyphosate. Our gastrointestinal bacteria do, however, possess this pathway and glyphosate can therefore be toxic to these bacteria. We will return to this concern later. Before doing so, let's examine glyphosate's effects on other enzymatic pathways that humans and other animals do possess.

Glyphosate Causes Birth Defects, Spontaneous Abortions in Animals

Contrary to Monsanto's claims of safety, a virtual avalanche of scientific studies on animals, including some funded by Monsanto itself, show alarming incidences of fetal deaths and birth defects in animals exposed to glyphosate. The record also shows that Monsanto has known since the 1980s that glyphosate in high doses causes malformations in experimental animals. Since 1993, the company has been aware that even middle and low doses can cause these birth defects. These abnormalities include absent kidneys and lungs, enlarged hearts, extra ribs, and missing and abnormally formed bones of the limbs, ribs, sternum, spine and skull.

Chaco is Argentina's poorest province and a region of intensive glyphosate spraying. Records from the neonatal service at Chaco's Perrando Hospital show that birth defects increased fourfold, from 19.1 to 85.3 per 10,000 in the decade after intensive herbicide use was introduced.

These startling revelations can be found in the report "Roundup and Birth Defects: Is the Public Being Kept in the Dark?" The document is authored by eight experts from the fields of molecular genetics, agro-ecology, toxico-pathology, scientific ethics, ecological agriculture, plant genetics, public health and cell biology. This report, written primarily for a European readership, is highly critical of the biotech industry and of the European Union's failure to evaluate glyphosate based on the science rather than on political concerns. It calls for an immediate withdrawal of Roundup and glyphosate from the European Union until a thorough scientific evaluation is done on the herbicide. From the report:

"The public has been kept in the dark by industry and regulators about the ability of glyphosate and Roundup to cause malformations. In addition, the work of independent scientists who have drawn attention to the herbicide's teratogenic effects has been ignored, denigrated or dismissed. These actions on the part of industry and regulators have endangered public health." (Authors note: A teratogen is any agent that can disturb the development of an embryo or a fetus. The term stems from the Greek teras, meaning monster).

Farm Animals

When Danish pig farmer Ibn Bjorn Pedersen began feeding his pigs genetically modified (GM) soy contaminated with glyphosate, the rate of birth defects soared. Piglets were being born without an ear, with only one large eye, with a large hole in the skull, and with a monstrously large "elephant tongue." A female piglet was born with testes and still others had malformed limbs, spines, skulls and gastrointestinal tracts. The deformed piglets were sacrificed, and all of them tested positive for glyphosate in their tissues.

Humans

These birth defects in test animals and in Mr. Pedersen's pigs were similar to those reported by humans living in Argentina, where glyphosate is sprayed heavily from airplanes as part of GM soy production.

The Gatica family resides in the barrio of Ituzaingó, in the Córdoba region of Argentina, only 50 meters (55 yards) away from fields of GM soy. Airplanes would regularly fly overhead, spraying glyphosate on the crops. In the mid-1990s, Sofia Gatica's oldest son became extremely ill. She recalls:

"When he was 4 years old, he came down with the illness that left him temporarily paralyzed. He was admitted to the hospital. They told me that they didn't know what was wrong with him."

In 1999, Sofia Gatica gave birth to a baby girl. The infant died of kidney failure on her third day of life. This tragedy prompted the grieving mother to take action. Sofia went door-to-door, collecting information on the health of her community. Her survey uncovered an unusually high rate of birth defects and cancer:

"Children were being born with deformities, little babies were being born with six fingers, without a jawbone, missing a skull bone, with kidney deformities, without an anus - and a lot of mothers and fathers were developing cancer."

She shared her findings with her friends and neighbors. Soon a group formed, calling itself the Mothers of Ituzaingó. In 2012 Sofia Gatica was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work protecting her community from glyphosate toxicity.

A group of Argentine doctors, alarmed by the increases in birth defects and cancer, joined the Mothers of Ituzaingó. These concerned physicians formed Doctors of Fumigated Towns, which held its first national conference in August of 2010 in Córdoba, Argentina, a farming area where glyphosate is heavily and repeatedly sprayed. The Department of Medical Sciences of the National University at Córdoba sponsored the conference. Some 160 doctors from throughout the country attended.

Dr. Medardo Avila Vazquez, a pediatrician and environmental health expert, explained his concerns:

"The change in how agriculture is produced has brought, frankly, a change in the profile of diseases. We've gone from a pretty healthy population to one with a high rate of cancer, birth defects and illnesses seldom seen before. There are more than 12 million people affected by fumigation (pesticide spraying) in the country. In these areas, the rate of birth defects is four times higher than in the cities."

Chaco is Argentina's poorest province and a region of intensive glyphosate spraying. Records from the neonatal service at Chaco's Perrando Hospital show that birth defects increased fourfold, from 19.1 to 85.3 per 10,000 in the decade after intensive herbicide use was introduced.

Scientist Proves How Glyphosate Causes Birth Defects

The experimental animal studies, the observations in farm animals and the epidemiological studies in humans are all consistent with glyphosate causing birth defects. How could this be possible if glyphosate only affects the EPSP Synthase enzyme that animals do not possess? Dr. Andres Carrasco, an embryologist and the former director of the molecular embryology laboratory at the University of Buenos Aires, demonstrated exactly how glyphosate causes birth defects.

Dr. Carrasco experimented with frog and chicken embryos. In each case, he was able to show that glyphosate produced birth defects similar to those seen in humans. In addition, Dr. Andrés Carrasco was able to demonstrate exactly how glyphosate caused the birth defects.

"The concentration of glyphosate needed to cause these errors was 500 to 4,000 times lower than the dose to which humans may be exposed by aerial spraying or handling of the herbicide."

He suspected that glyphosate caused an abnormal hyperactivity in the Vitamin A pathway. The Vitamin A signaling pathway is present in all vertebrates from the very earliest stages of embryonic development. It turns on certain genes and turns off others. This essential pathway acts like a conductor, orchestrating the symphony of embryological development. There is no room for error. Genes must be turned on and off at precisely the right instant in exact sequence. Any disturbance of the Vitamin A pathway can result in birth defects. It is because of the enhanced risk of birth defects that pregnant women are advised not to take any Vitamin A (retinoic acid) containing medications.

When Dr. Carrasco added a chemical inhibitor to his experiments, he was able to block the glyphosate-induced hyperactivity in the Vitamin A pathway. The birth defects no longer appeared. Mystery solved! Glyphosate had caused birth defects by over-stimulating the Vitamin A pathway. Since this pathway is present in all vertebrates, it follows that glyphosate has the capacity to cause birth defects in fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.

Glyphosate and the Risk of Cancer

Epidemiologic studies from the areas in Latin America where glyphosate is sprayed heavily have consistently shown spikes in cancer incidence. Other epidemiological studies have implicated glyphosate in brain cancer in children and in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In addition, laboratory studies of many kinds, as well as animal feeding studies, have repeatedly linked glyphosate to cancer. A number of these studies are reviewed below.

Glyphosate Causes DNA Damage, Induces Errors in Cell Division

Cancer is a complex process. One of the initial steps is damage to our DNA. Each of our cells gets its operating instructions from the DNA. If the DNA is damaged and not repaired, the now-faulty operating instructions can program cells to divide rapidly and chaotically. When this happens, cells become transformed into cancers.

Cells are also vulnerable to being transformed into cancers during cell division. Normal cells copy our DNA precisely. Each daughter cell receives from its parent cell an identical copy of the DNA. If a mistake is made during this process, the daughter cells will receive faulty DNA copies and, as a result, these cells can turn cancerous.

Since both DNA damage and errors made during cell division can lead to cancer, scientists have studied whether glyphosate can cause these abnormalities.

A large number of experiments in different species have shown glyphosate to cause DNA damage. Fruit fly larvae exposed to glyphosate developed lethal DNA damage. Mice injected with glyphosate and with Roundup showed an increased frequency of DNA damage in the bone marrow, liver, and kidneys. Roundup damaged the DNA in blood cells of the European eel at environmentally realistic concentrations. When lymphocytes from cows were exposed to glyphosate, the herbicide also caused DNA damage.

Scientists often study cell division in sea urchin embryos. In a study done in 2004, researchers from the National Scientific Research Center and the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in France exposed sea urchin embryos to glyphosate. The herbicide caused significant errors in cell division. The scientists commented that these abnormalities are hallmarks of cancer and delivered a particularly chilling warning:

"The concentration of glyphosate needed to cause these errors was 500 to 4,000 times lower than the dose to which humans may be exposed by aerial spraying or handling of the herbicide."

Glyphosate Causes DNA Damage in Humans

Dr. Fernando Manas, a biologist at the National University of Rio Cuarto in Argentina, has been investigating the effects of pesticides for years. He believes that glyphosate spraying is causing cancer by inducing DNA damage. His research has documented genetic damage in those exposed. When Dr. Manas studied pesticide sprayers working in the soy industry in Córdoba, Argentina he found significantly more DNA damage in their lymphocytes than in those of an unexposed group of controls. Glyphosate was one of the most commonly used pesticides.

Dr. Manas commented on the implications of his research: "The increased frequency of chromosomal aberrations found in rural workers compared with the reference group highlights the risk posed by exposure to pesticides on the health of this population."

Genetics researchers from the Pontifical Catholic University in Quito, Ecuador evaluated Ecuadorians living in the Sucumbíos district in northern Ecuador for evidence of DNA damage. This area was heavily sprayed with glyphosate by the Colombian government to eradicate illicit crops. Those exposed to the herbicide developed a number of acute symptoms, including abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, heart palpitations, headaches, dizziness, numbness, insomnia, depression, shortness of breath, blurred vision, burning of eyes, blisters and rash. When compared to a control group, they also showed significantly more DNA damage.

Glyphosate Increases Cancer Growth in Tissue Culture Studies

In addition to the DNA and cell division research, scientists have explored glyphosate's association with cancer in tissue culture studies. In these experiments, researchers grow cells on a small dish with nutrients and add various chemicals to test their effects.

In 2010, researchers in India exposed mouse skin cells grown in tissue culture to glyphosate. When the herbicide was added, the cells became cancerous.

Scientists in Thailand studied the impact of glyphosate on human estrogen-responsive breast cancer cells in tissue culture. They published their results in 2013. Hormone-responsive breast cancer cells are known to grow when exposed to estrogen. Glyphosate also stimulated these cells to grow. The herbicide was able to bind to the cancer's estrogen receptors, thus mimicking the effects of estrogen and accelerating tumor growth. Scientists refer to this as "endocrine disruption." An endocrine disruptor is a chemical that can mimic or block a hormone. Because hormones work as chemical messengers at very low doses, even a minute dose of an endocrine disruptor can lead to serious illness.

Glyphosate Causes Cancer in Test Animals

Glyphosate's effects have been assessed in studies with a variety of test animals for more than three decades.

One of the earliest studies was done in 1979-1981, under the auspices of the United Nations Environmental Program, the International Labor Organization and the World Health Organization. Rats exposed to low levels of the herbicide developed testicular cancer. A larger dose did not produce the cancer. Unfortunately, at the time of the experiment, it was not understood that certain substances have more potent effects at lower doses than at higher doses. The evaluators erroneously dismissed the results.

In a study from the Institute of Biology at the University of Caen in France, researchers studied glyphosate's effects on rats. Originally published in 2012, the resulting report was retracted after the biotech agriculture industry complained. After extensive review failed to show any fraud or problem with the data, the report was re-published in 2014. In this study, glyphosate was shown to double the incidence of mammary gland tumors. These cancers developed much faster in rats exposed to glyphosate than in controls. There was also an increase in cancers of the pituitary gland.

Glyphosate Linked to Cancer in Humans

In keeping with the studies demonstrating glyphosate's ability to damage DNA, to disturb cell division, to enhance cancer growth in tissue culture, and to produce cancers in live animals, human epidemiologic studies show a link between glyphosate and cancer.

Argentine physicians working in areas in which glyphosate is heavily sprayed have reported significant increases in cancer incidence. In Sante Fe province, which is an area of intensive herbicide spraying, a house-to-house epidemiological study of 65,000 people found cancer rates two to four times higher than the national average. Two villages in Chaco province also raised concerns about glyphosate's association with cancer. Residents of the heavily sprayed farming village of Avia Terai were compared to their peers in the non-sprayed ranching village of Charadai. In the farming village, 31 percent of residents had a family member with cancer while only 3 percent of residents in the ranching village had one.

Dr. Avila Vasquez, a doctor working in the heavily sprayed region of Barrio Ituzaingo, noted that cancer was responsible for 33 percent of the deaths in the region, while the cancer death rate in the big cities was only 19 percent.

Studies done on the gut bacteria of cows, horses, and poultry have shown that glyphosate readily kills off many beneficial bacteria, but many highly pathogenic bacteria are glyphosate resistant.

There is also epidemiologic evidence from studies done in developed countries linking glyphosate to cancer. Scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have analyzed studies spanning almost three decades. The IARC is the branch of the World Health Organization that promotes cancer research. Scientists throughout the world with skills in epidemiology, laboratory sciences and biostatistics are brought together to identify the causes of cancer so that preventive measures may be instituted. The agency views cancers as linked, directly or indirectly, to environmental factors. They have found a positive association between organo-phosphorus herbicides, like glyphosate, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The B cell lymphoma sub-type was strongly associated with glyphosate exposure.

Glyphosate Linked to Brain Cancer in Children

The linkage to lymphoma is the most recent research raising concerns about glyphosate's connection to cancer. Scientists from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a branch of the US Department of Health and Human Services, specialize in illnesses caused by toxic substances. They published the results of the US Atlantic Coast Childhood Brain Cancer Study in 2009. Children with brain cancer from Florida, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania were compared to age-matched controls. The researchers found that if either parent had been exposed to glyphosate during the two years before the child's birth, the chances of the child developing brain cancer doubled.

Glyphosate and Additional Serious Illnesses

Glyphosate's ability to produce birth defects and its association with cancer show that the herbicide actively impacts a number of important biological processes. Scientists have uncovered some of these. This work may have far-reaching implications for human health.

Dr. Carrasco showed that glyphosate causes birth defects in vertebrates by interfering with the Vitamin A signaling pathway. This pathway is part of a much larger enzyme system known as the "Cytochrome P450" system. This enzyme system is present in most tissues of our bodies. It is an extremely important and complex system, responsible for inactivating toxic compounds and metabolizing medications. The Cytochrome P450 system is also important in the metabolism of sex hormones, cholesterol and Vitamin D. Glyphosate interferes with several of the enzymes in this vital system.

One of the enzymes that glyphosate inhibits is aromatase. This enzyme converts testosterone to estrogen. The testosterone-estrogen balance is fundamental to normal functioning. Glyphosate can mimic estrogen by binding to estrogen receptors, as we saw in the case of glyphosate's ability to accelerate breast cancer cell growth in tissue culture. The herbicide can also prevent the chemical conversion of testosterone to estrogen. Glyphosate's interference with aromatase may explain its association with impaired fertility. Clearly, these endocrine disrupting effects are cause for concern.

Glyphosate is also toxic to many of our gut bacteria. These bacteria are important for human health. The bacteria live symbiotically with humans. The human digestive tract provides a friendly environment, full of nutrients for the bacteria. In exchange, the bacteria perform a number of essential functions, including the synthesis of vitamins, the detoxification of foreign substances, aid with immunity, help with digestion and maintenance of the normal permeability of the gastrointestinal tract.

When glyphosate kills off certain of these helpful gut bacteria, other bacteria grow, and those other bacteria may be harmful. Studies done on the gut bacteria of cows, horses, and poultry have shown that glyphosate readily kills off many beneficial bacteria, but many highly pathogenic bacteria are glyphosate resistant. The loss of the protective bacteria may make us vulnerable to leaky gut syndrome, ulcerative colitis and other gastrointestinal maladies.

Researchers found that chronically ill humans have significantly higher glyphosate residues in their urine when compared to healthy people.

Researchers have suggested that the overgrowth of harmful bacteria can cause a deficiency in essential amino acids and in necessary metals, like zinc and sulfur. The change in bacterial flora may also lead to the overproduction of ammonia. The consequences of these changes have not yet been shown to definitively cause illness. Since glyphosate is not tested for in our food supply nor by health-care providers caring for the sick, definitively implicating glyphosate in the etiology of diseases has been difficult. There is concern, however, that a large number of chronic diseases including neurological illnesses may be triggered or exacerbated by these changes in amino acid, ammonia and metal concentrations.

The depletion of amino acids, for example, can result in abnormally low levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin regulates mood, appetite and sleep. Its depletion may lead to depression, insomnia and disorders of appetite, like obesity and anorexia. Dopamine depletion in a key brain area is the hallmark of Parkinson's disease.

Elevated ammonia levels are seen in children with autism. Sulfur deficiency has been associated with autism, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Zinc deficiency, too, has been associated with autism and Alzheimer's disease, and also with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders.

An interesting finding from a study at the University of Leipzig showed an unexpected association between chronic illness and glyphosate exposure. The researchers tested urine from humans. They found that chronically ill humans have significantly higher glyphosate residues in their urine when compared to healthy people.

Glyphosate and Kidney Disease

Another chronic illness may have a direct link to glyphosate. Peasant farmers exposed to pesticides in Central America, India and Sri Lanka have developed a new and fatal kidney ailment. The cause has been difficult to pin down. The illness has become known as "Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology (CKDu)."

CKDu is now the second-leading cause of death among men in El Salvador. This small Central American nation has the highest kidney disease mortality rate in the world. Neighboring Honduras and Nicaragua also have extremely high rates of death from kidney disease. More men in El Salvador and Nicaragua are dying from CKDu than from HIV/AIDS, diabetes and leukemia combined. In one area of rural Nicaragua, so many men have died that the community is called "the Island of the Widows."

India and Sri Lanka have also been hit hard by the epidemic. More than 20,000 have died from CKDu in the past two decades in Sri Lanka. In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, more than 1,500 have been treated for the ailment since 2007.

While the exact cause of the kidney ailment remains under investigation, a leading hypothesis is that glyphosate-metal complexes are to blame. It appears that glyphosate's chelating properties give the chemical the ability to form complexes with heavy metals that can be readily absorbed through the skin, inhaled or ingested. Scientists are concerned that these glyphosate-metal complexes can travel through the bloodstream to the kidney and destroy the kidney tubule, leading to renal failure and often death. Invoking the "Precautionary Principle," both the governments of El Salvador and Sri Lanka have instituted bans on glyphosate.

Glyphosate in Air, Water, and Soil

Glyphosate and its degradation product amino-methyl-phosphonic acid have been found in air, rain, groundwater, surface water, seawater and soil. These studies show that glyphosate persists in soil and water for prolonged periods of time. In addition, the amount of glyphosate detected in samples is increasing over time. The chemical is accumulating in our environment. It also accumulates in animal tissue. A study done at the University of Leipzig in 2014 showed that cows were excreting glyphosate in their urine. These cows also had comparable levels of the herbicide in their organs (kidney, liver, lung, spleen, muscle, intestine), proving that meat and dairy are a source of glyphosate for humans.

Is There a Safe Glyphosate Dose?

Proponents of glyphosate use argue that in small doses there is no harm. This line of thinking is currently out of date. It was once thought that there was a linear relationship between the dose of a chemical and its effects. The higher the dose, the greater the expected impact. We now know that this is not true for a large number of chemicals, particularly endocrine disruptors. In addition, we know that glyphosate bio-accumulates in our bodies. Studies in cows show that the levels of glyphosate in urine are similar to their organ glyphosate levels. We can expect this to be true in humans as well. Given glyphosate's ability to bio-accumulate, as well as its known endocrine disrupting properties, there is no reason to assume that low doses of glyphosate are safe.

Conclusion

When a substance has significant known toxicities, the only justification for its continued use is that greater harm will accrue if it is not used. Many suitable, less-toxic alternatives to glyphosate use exist for weed control. It is exceedingly difficult to imagine any scenario where a glyphosate ban would in any way endanger the residents of Richmond, or any other city. Conversely, there is a large and growing literature showing an increasing number of serious health risks related to glyphosate exposure including birth defects, cancers and a dizzying array of chronic illnesses.

It is well within the purview of Richmond’s City Council to ban glyphosate from city use due to its potential to cause serious health problems. Given that the knowledge of glyphosate's toxicity has been documented repeatedly, continued glyphosate use by the city could conceivably make Richmond liable for any adverse health outcome that could be traced to municipal use of the herbicide.

A ban on glyphosate by city departments will also have collateral benefits. A public discussion of pesticide toxicity will warn local residents to consider safer alternatives of weed control. In addition, other cities will learn of glyphosate's toxicity and hopefully take similar steps to protect their residents.

The ultimate goal is the creation of a sustainable, pesticide-free city. In the words of the great Indian environmental activist, Vandana Shiva:

"We will continue to create the other world that we are sowing, seed-by-seed, inch-by-inch of soil, person-by-person, community-by-community, until all of this planet is embraced in one circle of a resurgent life and a resurgent love."

Following Richmond's Example

Ask your city or county to follow Richmond's example and to make your region pesticide free. You can start by prohibiting pesticide use by city departments and outside contractors. Once you have your own house in order, you can encourage your local school district, residents, and businesses to join the campaign to make your region pesticide free.

Here is a sample resolution you can share with your city council:

WHEREAS, several of the pesticides being used by city departments tasked with weed and pest control contain the toxin glyphosate;

WHEREAS, there is documented evidence that exposure to glyphosate causes birth defects, fetal deaths, cancer, DNA damage, and other serious illnesses;

WHEREAS, there is no safe dose of exposure to glyphosate because it persists in soil, water, and animal tissue for prolonged periods of time, so even low levels of exposure could still be harmful to humans, animals, and the environment;

WHEREAS, the City Council wishes to implement a twelve-month pilot prohibiting city employees and their contractors from using pesticides;

WHEREAS, the City Council wishes to receive a report that details, among other things, how much more expensive and labor intensive it is to not use pesticides.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the Council of the City of _______, that beginning on the effective date of this resolution, that all weed abatement activities conducted by the city employees and their contractors shall not involve the use of any pesticides;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City Council, the City Manager, and the IPM [Integrated Pest Management] coordinator shall not grant any exemptions to allow the use of pesticides in the eradication of invasive or noxious weeds, during the pilot;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that all purchases by the city of pesticides shall end immediately, and any remaining stock of pesticides shall be disposed immediately following the city’s hazardous waste disposal protocols;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that city staff from the Environmental and Health Initiatives Division within the City Manager’s Office, in coordination with the Department of Public Works and the Finance Department, shall produce a report to the City Council evaluating the impacts on cost and weed control; the efficacy of non-chemical methods including weed burners, mowing and line trimmers, vinegar, goats and other non-chemical methods; and attitudinal changes of residents towards pesticide use and weed control;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the report shall be due to the ______ City Council upon the conclusion of the pilot;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City Manager’s Office prepare and disseminate information to educate _________ residents and businesses about the harmful effects of using toxic pesticides such as those containing glyphosate;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City of ________ will encourage the _____________ School District to join this prohibition on pesticides containing glyphosate, and calls on the ____________ School District to educate employees, students, and parents about the harmful effects of using toxic pesticides such as those containing glyphosate;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this prohibition on the use of products containing glyphosate shall continue until the City Council decides further action;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this resolution becomes effective immediately upon approval by the _________ City Council;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that city staff shall immediately notify all contractors performing weed abatement;

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that city staff shall use all feasible and affordable means at its disposal to alert residents about the city’s decision to end its use of pesticides, and to encourage residents to follow the city’s example.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Jeff Ritterman, M.D.

Jeff Ritterman, M.D. is vice president of the board of directors of the SF Bay Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. He is the retired chief of cardiology at Kaiser Richmond and a former Richmond, California, city councilman. Follow him on Twitter @JeffRitterman.


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