Herbicides and pesticides are formulations that combine the primary weed or bug killing chemical(s) with what are called adjuvants. Adjuvants are compounds that dilute or preserve or in some way maximize the delivery of the primary chemical. The adjuvants are considered inert or as having no effect. So, when chemical companies seek approval for their product, they only have to show the safety of the active ingredients – not the adjuvants. (A similar procedure is used with vaccine approval and that is how dangerous adjuvants like thimerosol (thiomersal), the mercury based neurotoxin used in a variety of vaccines, reach the market.)
What happens when researchers begin measuring the entire formulations, the adjuvants alone and together with the primary chemicals? We learn that, the adjuvants are more toxic than the primary chemicals. This appears to be the case with glyphosate based herbicides.Glyphosate is the primary weedkiller in Roundup and other popular herbicides.
Glyphosate is pretty disruptive to health on its own accord being linked to significant endocrine disrupting effects that can lead to cancers and reproductive disorders, ambiguous genitalia and neurodevelopmental disorders in the offspring of exposed animals and farm workers. But glyphosate isn’t the only chemical in the herbicidal formulation. Glyphosate is combined with host of inert ingredients. Researchers in France tested these supposedly inert ingredients, individually and in the standard product formulations. What they found was troubling.The adjuvants were cytotoxic (induced cell death) to cells from the kidney, liver and placenta. The placental cells were especially sensitive to the adjuvants reacting and dying off at twice the rate as either the kidney or the liver cells.
While each of the nine adjuvants tested were cytotoxic, one adjuvant in particular stood out as more than 100 times more toxic than glyphosate or the other adjuvants – a surfactant called – POE-15. POE-15 is found in a host of common gardening and agricultural products including: Topglypho 360, Glyphogan, Clinic E.V. Bayer GC, Genamin, Roundup GT and Roundup GT+. The toxicity of these products directly corresponded to the concentration of POE-15. Formulations with larger concentrations of POE-15, were more toxic.
What does this mean? The acceptable exposure levels, those levels deemed to safe for human health, are calculated based only the primary ingredient glyphosate. Because the adjuvants like POE-15 are not considered, the approved exposure levels significantly underestimate the real risk to health, especially fetal health. Not measuring something is not the same as warranting its safety or efficacy. Policy regulations must be changed to reflect the total composition of the product seeking approval, whether it be drugs or environmental chemicals. In the mean time, limit your exposure. Find safer ways to control weeds, especially if you are pregnant.