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Concept: Herbicide


The broad-spectrum herbicide glyphosate (common trade name “Roundup”) was first sold to farmers in 1974. Since the late 1970s, the volume of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) applied has increased approximately 100-fold. Further increases in the volume applied are likely due to more and higher rates of application in response to the widespread emergence of glyphosate-resistant weeds and new, pre-harvest, dessicant use patterns. GBHs were developed to replace or reduce reliance on herbicides causing well-documented problems associated with drift and crop damage, slipping efficacy, and human health risks. Initial industry toxicity testing suggested that GBHs posed relatively low risks to non-target species, including mammals, leading regulatory authorities worldwide to set high acceptable exposure limits. To accommodate changes in GBH use patterns associated with genetically engineered, herbicide-tolerant crops, regulators have dramatically increased tolerance levels in maize, oilseed (soybeans and canola), and alfalfa crops and related livestock feeds. Animal and epidemiology studies published in the last decade, however, point to the need for a fresh look at glyphosate toxicity. Furthermore, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer recently concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” In response to changing GBH use patterns and advances in scientific understanding of their potential hazards, we have produced a Statement of Concern drawing on emerging science relevant to the safety of GBHs. Our Statement of Concern considers current published literature describing GBH uses, mechanisms of action, toxicity in laboratory animals, and epidemiological studies. It also examines the derivation of current human safety standards. We conclude that: (1) GBHs are the most heavily applied herbicide in the world and usage continues to rise; (2) Worldwide, GBHs often contaminate drinking water sources, precipitation, and air, especially in agricultural regions; (3) The half-life of glyphosate in water and soil is longer than previously recognized; (4) Glyphosate and its metabolites are widely present in the global soybean supply; (5) Human exposures to GBHs are rising; (6) Glyphosate is now authoritatively classified as a probable human carcinogen; (7) Regulatory estimates of tolerable daily intakes for glyphosate in the United States and European Union are based on outdated science. We offer a series of recommendations related to the need for new investments in epidemiological studies, biomonitoring, and toxicology studies that draw on the principles of endocrinology to determine whether the effects of GBHs are due to endocrine disrupting activities. We suggest that common commercial formulations of GBHs should be prioritized for inclusion in government-led toxicology testing programs such as the U.S. National Toxicology Program, as well as for biomonitoring as conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Agriculture, Animal testing, Toxicology, Carcinogen, Herbicide, Glyphosate, Roundup


Glyphosate-based herbicides (GBH) are the major pesticides used worldwide. Converging evidence suggests that GBH, such as Roundup, pose a particular health risk to liver and kidneys although low environmentally relevant doses have not been examined. To address this issue, a 2-year study in rats administering 0.1 ppb Roundup (50 ng/L glyphosate equivalent) via drinking water (giving a daily intake of 4 ng/kg bw/day of glyphosate) was conducted. A marked increased incidence of anatomorphological and blood/urine biochemical changes was indicative of liver and kidney structure and functional pathology. In order to confirm these findings we have conducted a transcriptome microarray analysis of the liver and kidneys from these same animals.

Concepts: Kidney, Liver, Renal cortex, Renin, Offal, Herbicide, Glyphosate, Roundup


Biocides, such as herbicides, are routinely tested for toxicity but not for sublethal effects on microbes. Many biocides are known to induce an adaptive multiple-antibiotic resistance phenotype. This can be due to either an increase in the expression of efflux pumps, a reduced synthesis of outer membrane porins, or both. Exposures of Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium to commercial formulations of three herbicides-dicamba (Kamba), 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), and glyphosate (Roundup)-were found to induce a changed response to antibiotics. Killing curves in the presence and absence of sublethal herbicide concentrations showed that the directions and the magnitudes of responses varied by herbicide, antibiotic, and species. When induced, MICs of antibiotics of five different classes changed up to 6-fold. In some cases the MIC increased, and in others it decreased. Herbicide concentrations needed to invoke the maximal response were above current food maximum residue levels but within application levels for all herbicides. Compounds that could cause induction had additive effects in combination. The role of soxS, an inducer of the AcrAB efflux pump, was tested in β-galactosidase assays with soxS-lacZ fusion strains of E. coli. Dicamba was a moderate inducer of the sox regulon. Growth assays with Phe-Arg β-naphtylamide (PAβN), an efflux pump inhibitor, confirmed a significant role of efflux in the increased tolerance of E. coli to chloramphenicol in the presence of dicamba and to kanamycin in the presence of glyphosate. Pathways of exposure with relevance to the health of humans, domestic animals, and critical insects are discussed.

Concepts: Bacteria, Antibiotic resistance, Antibiotic, Salmonella enterica, Herbicide


Herbicide use is increasing worldwide both in agriculture and private gardens. However, our knowledge of potential side-effects on non-target soil organisms, even on such eminent ones as earthworms, is still very scarce. In a greenhouse experiment, we assessed the impact of the most widely used glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup on two earthworm species with different feeding strategies. We demonstrate, that the surface casting activity of vertically burrowing earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) almost ceased three weeks after herbicide application, while the activity of soil dwelling earthworms (Aporrectodea caliginosa) was not affected. Reproduction of the soil dwellers was reduced by 56% within three months after herbicide application. Herbicide application led to increased soil concentrations of nitrate by 1592% and phosphate by 127%, pointing to potential risks for nutrient leaching into streams, lakes, or groundwater aquifers. These sizeable herbicide-induced impacts on agroecosystems are particularly worrisome because these herbicides have been globally used for decades.

Concepts: Soil, Aquifer, Irrigation, Earthworm, Lumbricidae, Herbicide, Roundup, Lumbricus terrestris


Use of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) increased ∼100-fold from 1974 to 2014. Additional increases are expected due to widespread emergence of glyphosate-resistant weeds, increased application of GBHs, and preharvest uses of GBHs as desiccants. Current safety assessments rely heavily on studies conducted over 30 years ago. We have considered information on GBH use, exposures, mechanisms of action, toxicity and epidemiology. Human exposures to glyphosate are rising, and a number of in vitro and in vivo studies challenge the basis for the current safety assessment of glyphosate and GBHs. We conclude that current safety standards for GBHs are outdated and may fail to protect public health or the environment. To improve safety standards, the following are urgently needed: (1) human biomonitoring for glyphosate and its metabolites; (2) prioritisation of glyphosate and GBHs for hazard assessments, including toxicological studies that use state-of-the-art approaches; (3) epidemiological studies, especially of occupationally exposed agricultural workers, pregnant women and their children and (4) evaluations of GBHs in commercially used formulations, recognising that herbicide mixtures likely have effects that are not predicted by studying glyphosate alone.

Concepts: Epidemiology, In vivo, Toxicology, In vitro fertilisation, In vitro, Herbicide, Glyphosate, Roundup


The effect of two fly ashes as soil amendment on the adsorption-desorption of metolachlor [2-chloro-N-(2-ethyl-6-methylphenyl)-N-(2-methoxy-1-methylphenyl)] and atrazine (2-chloro-4-ethylamino-6-isopropylamino-1,3,5-triazine) was studied in alluvial and laterite soils. The adsorption data for both the herbicides fitted well the Freundlich equation, and Freundlich adsorption coefficient (K (f)) increased with an increase of fly ash amount. Both the fly ashes differed in their extent to increase herbicide sorption, and the effect was different in different soils. Atrazine was sorbed more in the soils/soils + fly ash mixtures than the metolachlor. The K (f) values showed significant correlation with the amount of fly ash amendment (correlation coefficient, R > 0.982). The desorption isotherms also fitted the Freundlich equation, and desorption showed hysteresis which increased with an increase in the content of fly ash amendment. The free energy change (ΔG) indicated that the sorption process is exothermic, spontaneous, and physical in nature. The study has shown that fly ash as soil amendment significantly increased the sorption of metolachlor and atrazine, but the effect is soil- and fly ash-specific.

Concepts: Soil, Adsorption, Gibbs free energy, Freundlich equation, Surface runoff, Herbicide, Atrazine, Herbicides


A new biosensor was designed for the assessment of aquatic environment quality. Three microalgae were used as toxicity bioindicators: Chlorella vulgaris, Pseudokirchneriella subcapitata and Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. These microalgae were immobilized in alginate and silica hydrogels in a two step procedure. After studying the growth rate of entrapped cells, chlorophyll fluorescence was measured after exposure to (3-(3,4-dichlorophenyl)-1,1-dimethylurea) (DCMU) and various concentrations of the common herbicide atrazine. Microalgae are very sensitive to herbicides and detection of fluorescence enhancement with very good efficiency was realized. The best detection limit was 0.1 µM, obtained with the strain C. reinhardtii after 40 minutes of exposure.

Concepts: Environment, Measurement, Toxicology, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, Green algae, Herbicide, Atrazine, Herbicides


Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica is an extremely abundant invasive plant in Belgium and surrounding countries. To date, no eradication method is available for land managers facing the invasion of this rhizomatous plant. We tested different chemical herbicides with two application methods (spraying and stem injection), as well as mechanical treatments, on knotweed clones throughout southern Belgium. The tested control methods were selected to be potentially usable by managers, e.g., using legally accepted rates for herbicides. Stem volume, height and density reduction were assessed after one or two years, depending on the control method. Labor estimations were made for each control method. No tested control method completely eradicated the clones. Stem injection with glyphosate-based herbicide (3.6 kg ha(-1) of acid equivalent glyphosate) caused the most damage, i.e., no sprouting shoots were observed the year following the injection. The following year, though, stunted shoots appeared. Among the mechanical control methods, repeated cuts combined with native tree transplanting most appreciably reduced knotweed development. The most efficient methods we tested could curb knotweed invasion, but are not likely to be effective in eradicating the species. As such, they should be included in a more integrated restoration strategy, together with prevention and public awareness campaigns.

Concepts: English-language films, Plant stem, Fallopia, Polygonaceae, Japanese knotweed, Weed, Herbicide, Roundup


The biodegradability of nitrochlorinated (diuron and atrazine) and chlorophenoxy herbicides (2,4-D and MCPA) has been studied through several bioassays using different testing times and biomass/substrate ratios. A fast biodegradability test using unacclimated activated sludge yielded no biodegradation of the herbicides in 24 h. The inherent biodegradability test gave degradation percentages of around 20-30 % for the nitrochlorinated herbicides and almost complete removal of the chlorophenoxy compounds. Long-term biodegradability assays were performed using sequencing batch reactor (SBR) and sequencing batch membrane bioreactor (SB-MBR). Fixed concentrations of each herbicide below the corresponding EC50 value for activated sludge were used (30 mg L(-1) for diuron and atrazine and 50 mg L(-1) for 2,4-D and MCPA). No signs of herbicide degradation appeared before 35 days in the case of diuron and atrazine and 21 days for 2,4-D, whereas MCPA was partially degraded since the early stages. Around 25-36 % degradation of the nitrochlorinated herbicides and 53-77 % of the chlorophenoxy ones was achieved after 180 and 135 days, respectively, in SBR, whereas complete disappearance of 2,4-D was reached after 80 days in SB-MBR.

Concepts: Concentration, Biodegradation, Land degradation, Herbicide, Roundup, Atrazine, Batch reactor, Herbicides


Herbicides are the most commonly applied pesticides in agroecosystems, and therefore pose potentially significant ecotoxicological risks to plants and insects. Glyphosate is the most common herbicide worldwide, and glyphosate-resistant weeds are quickly becoming serious challenges in some agroecosystems. Because of this resistance epidemic and the recent development of crops with resistance to dicamba or 2,4-D, herbicide-use patterns are likely to change. Presently, dicamba and 2,4-D cause most herbicide-drift damage to nontarget plants despite limited agricultural usage, but the effects of these synthetic auxin herbicides on insects have been poorly explored. To understand the influence of dicamba on insects, we applied several sublethal, drift-level rates of dicamba to soybean, Glycine max L., and Carduus thistle, and measured growth and survival of Helicoverpa zea (Boddie) and Vanessa cardui (L.) larvae, respectively. For thistle, we measured percent nitrogen content before and after dicamba application. We also performed direct toxicity bioassays on the two caterpillar species with several rates of dicamba. Dicamba was not directly toxic to larvae of either species, and H. zea showed no negative effects when feeding on soybeans dosed with dicamba. We did, however, detect significant negative, indirect effects of higher rates of dicamba on V. cardui larval and pupal mass, total nitrogen of thistles post application, and thistle biomass in the presence of V. cardui larvae. Notably, thistle biomass was not related to dicamba dose in absence of larvae. Our results indicate that dicamba can indirectly influence the performance of some caterpillar species, possibly by altering plant nutritional content.

Concepts: Agriculture, Plant, Larva, Soybean, Maize, Lepidoptera, Caterpillar, Herbicide