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Toxic Tuesdays

Glycophosate

Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.

Glyphosate

Glyphosate is a chemical found in weed killer products such as RoundUpTM used on farms and home lawns. It gets absorbed by plant leaves, stopping plant growth within hours. Because of its effectiveness, glyphosate is found in widely used products that are easily obtainable. It is used all over the United States, but its highest concentrations are in the Midwest and Plains states. When glyphosate-containing weed killers are sprayed to kill plants, it can be inhaled and get on the skin. This can cause skin irritation and respiratory effects. People frequently working with glyphosate may be more likely to develop these respiratory effects. In scientific studies on animals, exposure to glyphosate during pregnancy caused developmental defects in the resulting offspring. Furthermore, there is concern that when combined with other chemicals found in weed killer products, glyphosate may have increased toxicity on humans.

Whether or not exposure to glyphosate increases the risk of cancer is inconclusive. The US EPA classifies it as not likely to cause cancer; however, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that it probably does. There have been allegations that large agrochemical corporations that use glyphosate in their products have close relationships with the governmental organizations that conduct the studies regarding glyphosate’s health risks. While more studies and risk assessments may need to be done to be certain of the risks, it is crucial that these studies are done transparently and without bias to protect and inform the public.

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Cyanide

Cyanide is a chemical usually found in compounds with other chemicals. Cyanide compounds can be

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Toxic Tuesdays

Atrazine

Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.

Atrazine

Atrazine is one of the most common herbicides used in the United States, with over 70 million pounds applied to crops each year. Used mostly in large scale agriculture of crops such as corn, sugarcane, and pineapples, atrazine is the most widely detected herbicide in drinking water. Figures vary, but a conservative estimate puts measurable levels of atrazine in the drinking water of nearly 30 million Americans in 28 states. With so many people exposed to this compound, it is worth examining any potential effects it may have on people.

Atrazine seems to have three ways of harming human health. Firstly, research suggests it alters the levels of key hormones animals. In male frogs, for example, atrazine has been observed to trigger the development of female sex characteristics. In a more recent study, abnormalities in the male reproductive organs of marsupials exposed to atrazine have been documented. Secondly, atrazine seems to have detrimental reproductive effects. There are significant associations between exposure to the herbicide and effects such as increased risk of miscarriage, reduced fertility, low birth weight, and increased chance of birth defects. Finally, there is evidence that atrazine could have carcinogenic effects. Animal studies have found a strong connection between atrazine and breast cancer. More research is required to see if this connection holds in exposed human populations.

Atrazine levels in drinking water are capped at 3 micrograms per liter (µg/L) by the EPA. This Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) as it is termed, however, is not based on health protective data, but on feasibility considerations for public water treatment systems. The state of California has developed entirely health-based protective values that are much smaller – 0.15 µg/L. This value should be the benchmark for drinking water systems, especially those in the Midwest where seasonal spikes of atrazine of more than 6 times the MCL have been recorded.

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Cyanide

Cyanide is a chemical usually found in compounds with other chemicals. Cyanide compounds can be

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