Roundup: A Threat to Frogs—and Humans?

At FROGS ARE GREEN, we have been concerned for some time about the weedkiller, Roundup, manufactured by Mosanto, because of studies that have shown birth defects and reproductive deformities occurring in animals, including frogs, after exposure to its active ingredient, the chemical glyphosate. A new review of scientific reports about Roundup by the organization Open Source Earth suggests that that glyphosate may cause birth defects in humans as well.

If you drive to your local Wal-Mart or Home Depot, you might see huge canisters of the weedkiller outside the store for lawn and garden use.  Roundup is one of the most common weedkillers in the U.S., used for agricultural as well as non-agricultural uses.

Soybean field, courtesy USDA

Yet there have been increasing concerns about the safety of the herbicide for years. One study,  for example, conducted by Argentine government scientist, Andres Carrasco, published in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology in 2010, found that glyphosate causes malformations in frog and chicken embryos at doses far lower than those used in agricultural spraying. The study also noted these malformations were similar to human birth defects found in genetically modified soy-producing regions. Carrasco suspected that the toxicity classification of glyphosate was too low and that in some cases, this chemical could be a powerful poison.

How has glyphosate been regulated in the U.S.? Not very stringently it seems. According to the Huffpo article, regulators in the United States have said they are aware of the concerns surrounding glyphosate. The Environmental Protection Agency, which is required to reassess the safety and effectiveness of all pesticides on a 15-year cycle through a process called registration review, is currently examining the compound.

According to a statement given to the Huffington Post, the EPA initiated a registration review of glyphosate in July 2009. It will determine if their previous assessments of this chemical need to be revised based on the results of this review. It issued a notice to the company Monsanto to submit human health and ecotoxicity data in September 2010.

The EPA said it will also review information and data from other independent researchers, including Earth Open Source.

This sounds like a pretty flabby response to a serious issue. Imagine if in the early 1960s the response to the threats of DDT was so wishy-washy? We hope the EPA takes a much closer look at the most widely used weedkiller in the U.S.

*Most of the information in this post is from the Huffington Post report, “Roundup: Birth Defects Caused By World’s Top-Selling Weedkiller, Scientists Say,” by Lucia Graves.


Atrazine Turning Frog Princes into Frog Princesses?

Last summer, we wrote a post, Rachel Carson’s Legacy, about troubling chemicals called endrocrine disruptors, potentially harmful to both humans and frogs, that are in herbicides and pesticides, as well as in plastic, cosmetics, and many consumer products. We followed up with a post about Berkeley professor Dr. Tyrone Hayes‘ studies of one endocrine disruptor, Atrazine, a widely-used weed killer, and its effects on frogs. Some of these effects included “intersex” frogs—male frogs that developed with female characteristics.

Recently a new study by Dr. Hayes has brought increased media attention to this issue.  As reported in the article, Weed Killer Creates Mr. Moms (Science News), Atrazine was added to water in the laboratory’s frog tanks in concentrations of 2.5 parts per billion—the same amount that might be found in rivers and streams, downstream of cornfields, golf courses, or domestic lawns, where it is used as a weed killer.

Dr. Hayes and associates found that one-third of the frogs raised in the water with Atrazine behaved like females, even sending out chemicals to attract other males. Out of the  forty frogs he studied, four had high levels of estrogen, and two actually developed female reproductive organs.

The EPA has determined that up to 3 parts per billion of Atrazine are safe in U.S. waterways. But according to Dr. Hayes’s studies, that’s too much. Even minute amounts potentially harm frogs—and humans as well. Endocrine disruptors have been associated with various cancers and reproductive birth defects in boys.

Recently, sixteen cities in six Midwestern states sued the Swiss corporation Syngenta, which manufactures the chemical, for the costs of expensive water filtration systems needed to keep drinking water safe.

Scientists at Syngenta continue to assert that Atrazine is completely safe (despite the fact that it’s been banned in Europe).   When I looked up the topic on google news, I found two Syngenta-sponsored sites with names such as “Atrazine Safe to Wildlife” and “Atrazine and Frogs.” Their website denies the “baseless activist” claims.

As Randall Amster writes in his post, Silent Spring Has Sprung, on Truthout, and reprinted on the Huffington Post, these denials from Syngenta are similar to the backlash Rachel Carson received from chemical companies when she exposed the dangers of DDT in her groundbreaking 1961 book Silent Spring. He writes:

In [Silent Spring], Carson famously argued that the pesticide DDT was responsible for negative impacts on the environment, animals and humans alike, despite disinformation spread by industry and government officials about its purported safety and utility in agribusiness. Silent Spring is often credited with starting the modern environmental movement, yet today we are facing equivalent challenges and similar campaigns to conceal the potential dangers of toxic chemicals in our midst.

Below is a video from the Huffington Post Investigative Fund about atrazine:

See also the New York Times article, “Berkeley Scientist Studies Raise Corporate Hackles.”