City of Albuquerque, Bernalillo County and state of New Mexico officials have all confirmed that Glyphosate, a highly controversial herbicide, is used to control weed growth in public spaces throughout New Mexico.
Bernalillo County resident, author, and health expert, Susan Clair, said she was walking on a public path on Frost Rd. in the East mountains in Bernalillo County when she saw men spraying Glyphosate along the path. She said the men spraying were Bernalillo County employees who knew little about the product they were using and were not using protective clothing to keep them from coming in contact with the herbicide.
Clair said Glyphosate is a carcinogen and that it can leach down into the groundwater and poison people who use the affected water. She said Glyphosate is unnecessary and that vinegar is a much safer alternative that won’t harm residents or the environment.
“We’re being poisoned without our consent once you get right down to it,” she said. “You don’t poison people, you don’t poison the Earth, you don’t poison the land where it can leach down into the groundwater, it’s never necessary.”
Chemist, John Franz, discovered Glyphosate was an herbicide in 1970 – the chemical and genetically modified organism production company he worked for, Monsanto, later marketed Glyphosate under the trademark, Roundup.
Much attention has been brought to the Monsanto company for misleading the public about the environmental impact of Roundup and the production on genetically modified crops. Last May, demonstrators gathered at March Against Monsanto, an international protest against Monsanto and genetically modified food, which was held in 52 countries and 436 cities.
The genetically modified crops the company produces, called “Roundup Ready” crops, are resistant to Glyphosate. According to the Monsanto website, “Roundup Ready” crops include soybeans, sugarbeets, alfalfa, corn, cotton and spring and winter canola.
“This means you can spray Roundup agricultural herbicides in-crop from emergence through flowering for unsurpassed weed control, proven crop safety and maximum yield potential,” according to the website.
But is crop safety more important than public safety?
Clair said she emailed Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson in an effort to educate Johnson about the negative side effects of Roundup and convince the County to stop using it.
“Their first responsibility is keeping the residents safe and secure,” she said. “I don’t have time for frivolous things. This is not a frivolous thing, this is a huge issue.”
In his response email, Johnson said that Bernalillo County utilizes Integrated Pest Management and mechanical methods, such as mowing or hand-pulling, and that pesticides are a last means of defense.
“Where accessibility to mowers is limited, or path edges are more conducive to weed growth, they use Roundup to show an immediate result and provide for long term protection,” he wrote in the email. “I support this limited use of herbicide by Bernalillo County, as part of a comprehensive IPM program, as a means to ensure safe roadways and trails in County, as well as to protect the integrity of expensive infrastructure projects that collectively cost County taxpayers millions of dollars annually.”
Clair said the officials should reconsider using Roundup and become more educated on the negative impact it has on residents and the environment. She said that Roundup is not a necessary tool in controlling weed growth and that supporting the use of it isn’t justifiable.
“To me, the way they’re stating it, that they only use it when necessary – it’s not necessary. It’s just not,” she said. “What did we do before we had Roundup? To me, they’re making it an issue – that we have to do this – but we don’t. Poison is never something that we have to do. I just don’t agree with that.”
City of Albuquerque Park Manager James Dunn said that Glyphosate is used selectively to kill unwanted weeds, but that the product is not always the most effective approach. He said that Glyphosate may kill the weeds, but that it leaves behind a dead plant that needs to be removed to make sure public parks are aesthetically pleasing.
Dunn said that timing is important when using the chemical, which makes it less likely for city officials to use it.
“Rainfall inhibits glyphosates ability to kill the weed,” he said. “That’s why we favor manual (pulling by hand) or mechanical (line trimmer, hoe, shovel) as our primary weed removal method.”
Dunn said other tools are utilized to improve plant health and pest control, including Integrated Pest Management, which uses multiple techniques, such as pesticides and resistant plants, to control pest population, and Plant Health Care, which emphasizes plant health and working with nature rather than against it.
But according to John McKiernan, a writer for naturalnews.com, Glyphosate is second on a list of twelve highly toxic chemicals.
“Glyphosate…has been link(ed) to birth defects, DNA damage, hormone disruption, cancer and neurological disorders,” he said in his article. “Ditch this weed killer for good. Get rid of weeds naturally, using boiling water, vinegar, salts or pulling them out by hand.”
Findings from a study published in The Food & Chemical Toxicology Journal show that about 50 percent of male rats and 70 percent of female rats who were fed genetically modified corn and consumed trace amounts of Roundup suffered premature death. Furthermore, rats that consumed Roundup – amounts within the limit legally allowed in the water supply – had a 200 to 300 percent increase in tumors and suffered from severe damage to their organs, including liver and kidney damage.
Christine Dawson, Botanical Curator at Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park in Carlsbad, said that Roundup is used within New Mexico state parks, but that state park officials also pull weeds out by hand. She said hand-pulling would be used more often if there was more time and more employees for it.
“Roundup is kind of one of those things that are used pretty sparingly,” she said. “A lot of state employees and state parks have fewer employees and they have to look at getting the job done quickly and effectively. It’s a good kill on your weed, and the important thing is getting rid of those weeds before they spread.”
Dawson said Roundup has a life-span of about 30 days, and that the chemical dissipates within that time.
“There is still some Roundup in the soil 30 days after use, but there could be more or less of it depending on the soil.”
Dawson said that state employees are careful while using Roundup, and that all employees are trained in the proper use and handling of it. She said proper use and training ensure that the pesticides don’t spread or drift.
“We follow the label on the pesticides. That’s the bible for anybody who sprays pesticides,” she said. “What we’re taught to do, and we try to do it very carefully, we spray it on the plants we intend to kill.”
Dawson said that although there are organic options, such as vinegar, Roundup is preferred because it is a more effective alternative.
“You have to use a lot less Roundup than you do vinegar,” she said.
Although studies have shown a link between Glyphosate consumption and various health problems, including cancer, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Glyphosate has an EPA toxicity class level of III, which means it is not considered a carcinogen and is considered to have low toxicity.
Roundup may be an effective option in terms of maintaining aesthetically-pleasing parks and clear roadways, but public health is a much greater concern than public happiness, and there shouldn’t be a limit on the efforts public officials put into ensuring public health and well-being.
It’s most concerning that no one provided a clear explanation of how often Roundup or Glyphosate is used. The idea of “selective” or “minimal” use is subjective and, regardless of the amount used, is still dangerous for residents and the environment.
The reality is that the damage being done to the environment and the public isn’t closely monitored or measured, it is hardly even discussed.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to explain Glyphosate's labeling as non-carcinogenic by the EPA. The original piece stated that it was a "known carcinogen" and although increasing research is pointing to it's carnigenic effects the labeling and classification remains non-carcinogenic.
(Feature image by Monik Markus)