Sign up to receive email updates, action alerts & health tips from EWG. [Privacy]

Government Tests Find Roundup Widespread in Water, Air

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, September 1, 2011

Washington, D.C. -- Glyphosate, one of the most heavily used weed-killers in the world, has been found in air, rain and rivers in two states examined by government scientists.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, glyphosate, also known by its trade name Roundup, has been “commonly found in rain and rivers in agricultural areas in the Mississippi River watershed.”

EWG President Ken Cook, a St. Louis native, has written Hugh Grant, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Monsanto Company, asking him when the company had reason to believe glyphosate would extensively contaminate water and air and if the company had conducted tests of its own.

"Monsanto notoriously hid PCB contamination in Alabama for decades," Cook observed.

"We are asking that in this case, the company tell the public what it knew about glyphosate contamination, and when it knew it," Cook said. "It is inconceivable that a company with Monsanto's scientific capacity did not predict, and examine, the possibility of air and water contamination by glyphosate."

"We believe that Monsanto has a special obligation to ensure that glyphosate does not pollute the drinking water of Americans living in farm communities," added Cook. "We urge you to disclose results of any testing for glyphosate in drinking water that Monsanto has performed or commissioned in areas where your product is heavily used."

In 2001 and 2002, EWG compiled a series of internal documents showing Monsanto withheld for years its knowledge of widespread PCB contamination of water and soil in Anniston, Alabama.

Then-Washington Post journalist Michael Grunwald chronicled the scandal in his seminal report: Monsanto Hid Decades of Pollution

The text Cook’s letter to Monsanto’s Grant below:

September 1, 2011

Hugh Grant
Chairman, president and chief executive officer
Monsanto Company
800 N. Lindbergh Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63167

Dear Mr. Grant,

We at the Environmental Working Group have read with alarm a Reuters account of a U.S. Geological Survey study that has discovered that your company's weed killer, glyphosate, widely contaminates surface waters and air in Iowa and Mississippi.

According to the Reuters story, published August 31, Paul Capel, leader of the USGS research team on agricultural chemicals, described the level of glyphosate contamination in the air and water of those states as "significant." Your chemical contaminated every stream sample taken in Mississippi over a two-year period, the story said.

Roundup is one of the most widely used pesticides in the world. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in 2007, about 180 million pounds of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, was used in agriculture, up from 85 million pounds in 2001. Another 5 million pounds of glyphosate were purchased for use on residential lawns and gardens, and 13 million went for other non-agricultural uses such as roadways, golf courses and public lands.

Recent scientific findings have raised serious concerns about glyphosate’s toxicity. Female workers exposed to Roundup have reported pregnancy problems. These observations in humans accord with two important research studies. In 2005, a team of French scientists from Université de Caen found that very low doses of glyphosate damage human placental cells and that effects were more pronounced with higher concentrations or longer exposure times. In 2009, the same research team, testing concentrations of Roundup much lower than those used in agriculture,found that the pesticide caused “total cell death” in embryonic kidney and placental cells within 24 hours.

Given Monsanto's expertise in the environmental chemistry of glyphosate, a product your company invented, did the company anticipate such widespread contamination of air and water?

Has Monsanto conducted air and water tests for this weed killer? If so, when did that testing begin, where were samples collected, what were the results, and did Monsanto notify any state or federal agencies about the findings? We urge you to make any such test results public immediately.

The Reuters report notes that testing air and water for glyphosate is difficult and costly. We believe that Monsanto, not U.S. taxpayers, should pay for further, independent testing to determine the extent of contamination where glyphosate is in heavy use. That area would comprise most of the U.S. farm belt.

We believe that Monsanto has a special obligation to ensure that glyphosate does not pollute the drinking water of Americans living in farm communities. We urge you to disclose results of any testing for glyphosate in drinking water that Monsanto has performed or commissioned in areas where your product is heavily used.

Sincerely yours,

Ken Cook
President, Environmental Working Group

 

Key Issues: