Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found a widely-used herbicide chemical that has been linked to cancer in the majority of urine samples collected from children and adults in the United States.
The health agency released the results of its National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) last month, which showed that over 80 percent of urine samples tested by the CDC contained glyphosate.
NHANES, which began in the early 1960s, is a program of studies that are designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children across the country.
The survey found glyphosate in 1,885 of 2,310 urine samples collected from people aged 6 years and older in 2013 and 2014. Nearly a third of the samples came from kids, ranging in age from 6 to 18.
Food is the main route of exposure to glyphosate for children aged 18 and under, according to CDC researchers. Given that the herbicide is used as a pre-harvest drying agent, or crop desiccant—a chemical applied to crops to dry them out more quickly before harvest—the pesticide is highly likely to make its way into foods.
Since glyphosate was first registered, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has continuously reviewed and reassessed its safety and uses, most recently releasing an interim decision for registration review in January 2020.
‘Unlikely to Be a Human Carcinogen’
According to the EPA, the agency, “continues to find that there are no risks of concern to human health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label.”
“EPA also found that glyphosate is unlikely to be a human carcinogen.”
However, there continues to be intense debate about whether or not glyphosate is indeed carcinogenic.
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer—an arm of the World Health Organization—classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” after a 17-member panel of scientists reviewed almost 1,000 peer-reviewed, published studies on the potential carcinogenicity of the chemical, along with others.
More recently in April 2019, the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry released an analysis (pdf) regarding studies that connected glyphosate to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer that develops in the lymphatic system, and recommended monitoring children’s exposure to glyphosate.
Other experts have warned that the chemical’s use in the United States and around the world in agriculture has prompted an increase in autism, diabetes, cancer, allergies, and other chronic conditions.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) noted in a statement on Monday that 87 percent of 650 children tested had detectable levels of glyphosate, according to the CDC’s analysis.
“Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the country, yet until now we had very little data on exposure,” said Alexis Temkin, EWG toxicologist. “Children in the U.S. are regularly exposed to this cancer-causing weedkiller through the food they eat virtually every day.”
Temkin added that the Environmental Protection Agency should “take concrete regulatory action to dramatically lower the levels of glyphosate in the food supply and protect children’s health.”
Lawsuits Pile Up
Glyphosate was first used in the Roundup herbicide developed by Monsanto in 1974 and marketed until 2018, when the German company Bayer A.G. bought Monsanto for $63 billion.
However, Bayer has faced tens of thousands of lawsuits by people—predominantly those working in agriculture, maintenance, and landscaping industries that are likely to be significantly more exposed to the chemical—claiming that Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides caused their cancer.
Among the cancer claims, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the same form of cancer highlighted in the 2019 U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry analysis, is prevalent.
Plaintiffs argue that the company failed to adequately warn the public about health risks associated with glyphosate and Roundup.
Bayer maintains the product is safe but announced last year that it would replace glyphosate from all lawn and garden products sold in the United States by 2023.
“It is important for the company, our owners, and our customers that we move on and put the uncertainty and ambiguity related to the glyphosate litigation behind us,” Bayer CEO Werner Baumann said in a statement at the time.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Bayer A.G.’s appeal to review a million-dollar lawsuit filed by a Californian man who is suing the company, alleging that over 20 years of Roundup use has caused him to develop cancer.
The move paves the way for thousands more lawsuits against the company to ensue.