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posted by janrinok on Wednesday July 30 2014, @07:04PM   Printer-friendly
from the Monsanto-is-having-a-bad-week dept.

Monsanto's RoundUp, a widely used pesticide, uses the active ingredient Glyphosate and it may be up for another serious beating. Medical specialists and scientists in Sri Lanka has found that when glyphosate comes in contact with heavy metals like cadmium, arsenic, manganese and cobalt which exist naturally in the soil or fertilizer, it becomes highly toxic and has a high likelihood of causing fatal kidney disease for anyone that comes into contact with it. And because the substance binds to metals it will not show up in current tests. The report (and another one) is published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and has resulted in that the Sri Lanka president to ban glyphosate immediately.

Exposure to glyphosate causes a drop in amino acid tryptophan levels, which interrupts the necessary active signalling of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is associated with weight gain, depression, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. The report show that industry and regulators knew as long ago as the 1980's and 1990's that glyphosate causes malformation, but that information was not made public. Glyphosate is also a teratogenic.

Monsanto has been in the news quite recently.

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  • (Score: 2) by gman003 on Wednesday July 30 2014, @07:36PM

    by gman003 (4155) on Wednesday July 30 2014, @07:36PM (#75652)

    Okay, it's been way too long since I waded into the deep end of the science pool. Is this understanding of the situation correct?:

    Glyphosphate itself is toxic in high, acute doses, but is water-soluble and easily removed from crops. As such it is mainly a danger to those spraying it, and it is an easily-managed danger.

    However, when it encounters certain heavy metals in the environment, it drastically increases their ability to penetrate biological defenses (sort of like how methylmercury is a much more bioavailable form of mercury) and becomes harder to wash away. Even then, the glyphosphate is not the danger, just the metal it bonded with. This is, however, a significant danger in regions with high natural levels of those heavy metals.

    Is that understanding right, or did I miss something?

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by VLM on Wednesday July 30 2014, @08:02PM

    by VLM (445) on Wednesday July 30 2014, @08:02PM (#75661)

    A chelating agent is not a soap, but its close enough to imagine it is. Sorta. Or like an emulsificant like egg yolk.

    So say your mixing bowl is full of water and a poisonous oil and for the sake of argument you can't adsorb the oil. But you add some yolk to it and whip the heck out of it and now you've got toxic mayonnaise which you can adsorb so then you get sick. This is one screwed up analogy.

    Anyway back to the real stuff, it biodegrades and most of the shards are really boring, but one of the shards is a theoretical chelating agent which means it kind of wraps it self around / eats heavy metals which live wrapped up inside it. That's really awesome if you're trying to get them out of a system and you've got something that disposes of chelating agents easier than it disposes directly of heavy metals. On the other hand, from the article, it would kind of suck if chelated heavy metals wrapped up and hidden snuck past defenses to destroy something. Like something in your kidneys that protects them from direct attack by heavy metals, but a "trojan horse" wrapped up inside a chelating agent can sneak past, get inside, and destroy them.

    Well, the paper is all "in theory" not exactly proven in the lab. And they haven't even identified which trojan horse of many is actually causing the problem, much less the dudes sneaking around in the trojan horse. But the overall historical battle sounds like this trojan horse story. Kinda. Although theres absolutely no evidence.

    So you unwrap your new xbox game, and the cellophane gets repurposed to wrap up some homemade sugar candies which you later eat and get diabetes from a lifetime of high carb intake. Now does that mean "xbox games cause diabetes", no, only an idiot would say that, its actually the sugar that did it. On the other hand, if the only source of cellophane wrapping paper was xbox games and the only way to shove raw sugar down your throat was homemade candies wrapped in used xbox game wrappings, well, then maybe banning xbox games isn't all that dumb after all.. if thats the only way it can happen. If. Kind of a philosophical argument. Of course the more intelligent thing to do would be to not have sugar candies laying everywhere or to filter what you eat, and then you can have all the xbox games you want without getting diabetes. Unfortunately the paper doesn't prove the diabetes was caused by either the sugar candies or the xbox wrappers, although something like this has happened before and both are present in the house so it can't be proven that it didn't happen. I like this analogy quite a bit.

    • (Score: 2) by Reziac on Friday August 01 2014, @02:37AM

      by Reziac (2489) on Friday August 01 2014, @02:37AM (#76215) Homepage

      If your drinking water has such a high level of toxic metals that you have to worry about ingesting secondary compounds, you've got more problems than metals chelated by glyphosphate (theoretical or otherwise).

      And aren't we missing something here? One of the ways toxic metals are medically *removed* from the body is by ingesting a chelating agent, which in due course is excreted with along with the chelated metal. Now I'm wondering if maybe this hypothetical chelation might be helping more than harming.

      And there is no Alkibiades to come back and save us from ourselves.
  • (Score: 4, Informative) by cafebabe on Wednesday July 30 2014, @08:09PM

    by cafebabe (894) on Wednesday July 30 2014, @08:09PM (#75663) Journal

    You missed something. Glyphosate with or without heavy metals are a problem for consumers. Glyphosate is absorbed when plants grow [] and it is only delay between spraying and harvesting which reduces the level of glyphosate present in food. Adverse conditions, such as bad weather or a shady corner of a field, may lead to elevated levels of glyphosate.

    Regardless, ingested glyphosate interferes with tryptophan. This reduces serotonin. This can cause depression, deformed babies and other bad things. Apparently, some of this was known in the 1980s.

    • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday July 30 2014, @08:28PM

      by VLM (445) on Wednesday July 30 2014, @08:28PM (#75672)

      "only delay between spraying and harvesting which reduces the level of glyphosate present in food."

      Yes and that may be an important key to the problem. Obviously only an idiot would spend a substantial amount of money by spraying for weeds the day before a harvest, that stuff costs money and smart farmers go out of business all the time, so dumb ones aren't going to last long at all.

      The likely problem is something like contamination. So some dude aerial sprays his corn and downwind it lands on some radishes or something that are being harvested.

      The "cure" for the problem might be as simple as being a little more careful about application.

      Could also be accidental exposure as in industrial style leaks, improperly cleaned equipment, just plain old human stupidity. Again, more careful regulation might be all that's needed.

      Maybe a radiotracer study would be interesting. If you find that stuff in your radishes or whatever, how exactly did it get there?

      • (Score: 2) by cafebabe on Wednesday July 30 2014, @09:03PM

        by cafebabe (894) on Wednesday July 30 2014, @09:03PM (#75688) Journal

        I hadn't considered the problem of cross-contamination. Perhaps I should have given that Monsanto has sued farmers for patent infringement after their crops were cross-contaminated with Monsanto products.

        Anyhow, I'm not sure that a radio-tracer would be a good proxy. It could go either way. The problem is that glyphosate absorption occurs when plants grow. Plant growth is almost linear with light - if there is sufficient water and nutrients. Meanwhile, glyphosate decay would be weakly related to plant growth. I'm not sure if a radio-tracer would model all of this accurately.

      • (Score: 3, Informative) by frojack on Wednesday July 30 2014, @10:03PM

        by frojack (1554) on Wednesday July 30 2014, @10:03PM (#75722) Journal

        This is Sri Lanka.

        Rice. Not corn. As far as I know, there are no roundup ready crops grown in that country.

        Therefore, the roundup would have been used (likely to excess) well before planting season. You would never put that on crops near harvest, because it pretty much kills everything that hasn't had roundup tolerance engineered in.

        It breaks down very quickly. (days). So the exposure window is during application, and probably contamination of the drinking water, (which again would only last days).

        Because it is a poor country application is likely to be done via backpack sprayers/foggers rather than aerial or mechanized. So the exposure could be intense since they are out there in the field spraying and breathing it before the planting season.


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