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Denmark Restricts Water-Contaminating Herbicide
(Beyond Pesticides, September 23, 2003)
Denmark placed unprecedented restrictions on the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, as of September 15, 2003. The government action resulted from testing which showed the presence of the toxic chemical in Denmark's groundwater, where most of the country's drinking water comes from. The Denmark and Greenland Geological Research Institution (DGGRI) had found glyphosate sieving down through soil after applications, where it polluted groundwater at a rate of five times more than the level allowed for drinking water.

"When we spray glyphosate on the fields by the rules, it has been shown that it is washed down into the upper groundwater with a concentration of 0.54 micrograms per litre. This is very surprising, because we had previously believed that bacteria in the soil broke down the glyphosate before it reached the ground water," says DGGRI. Glyphosate had also been found earlier in wells in Roskilde and Storstroms regions as well as the Copenhagen district council area. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges that the material does have the potential to contaminate surface waters. If glyphosate reaches surface water, it is not broken down readily by water or sunlight. The half-life of glyphosate in pond water ranges from 70 to 84 days.

When the chemical was first detected in Denmark's groundwater, Professor Mogens Henze, head of the Institute for Environment and Resources at Denmark's Technical University, responded by stating, "The results show that glyphosate is polluting our drinking water. And unfortunately we have only seen the tip of the iceberg, because glyphosate and many other spray chemicals are on their way through the soil at this point in time. Politicians need to look at agriculture in relation to clean drinking water and decide what it is they are going to do."

The new restrictions specifically ban spraying of glyphosate on sites "where leaching is extensive because of heavy rain." There are a number of exceptions to the restrictions, which are subject to revision after an interim consultation period. Still, Monsanto, Syngenta and other manufacturers of the chemical issued complaints that the restrictions are "unacceptable" for the producers or Danish farmers.

Statistics from the Environment Ministry show that glyphosate use has doubled in Denmark in the last five years. In 2001, 800 tons were used, which made up a quarter of farmers' total use of pesticides. Use of the herbicide is also widespread in the U.S. According to EPA's most recent data on pesticide usage, glyphosate was the seventh most widely used active ingredient in agriculture, with 34 to 38 million pounds used in 1997. In 1995/96, glyphosate ranked as the second most used active ingredient in non-agricultural settings, with five to seven million pounds used in the home and garden and nine to twelve million pounds used in commercial settings.

Although glyphosate use is widespread, there are many concerns regarding its health effects. In fact, the most recent data (1998) from California's Department of Pesticide Regulation finds that glyphosate ranks first among herbicides as the highest causes of pesticide-induced illness or injury to people in California. Symptoms following exposure to glyphosate formulations include: swollen eyes, face and joints; facial numbness; burning and/or itching skin; blisters; rapid heart rate; elevated blood pressure; chest pains, congestion; coughing; headache; and nausea. It is also linked to chronic health effects. A 1999 study, A Case-Control Study of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and Exposure to Pesticides, (American Cancer Society, 1999), found that people exposed to glyphosate are 2.7 times more likely to contract non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

For more information on glyphosate, see Beyond Pesticides' Glyphosate ChemWATCH fact sheet. Read about glyphosate's connection to toxic fungi growth in the August 29, 2003 edition of Daily News.