Denmark Restricts Water Contaminating
September 23, 2003
Denmark placed unprecedented restrictions on the herbicide glyphosate,
the active ingredient in Round Up, as of September 15, 2003. The
government action resulted from testing which showed the presence of the
toxic chemical in Denmark's groundwater, where most of the country's
drinking water comes from.
The Denmark and Greenland Geological Research Institution (DGGRI) had
found glyphosate sieving down through soil after applications, where it
polluted groundwater at a rate of five times more than the level allowed
for drinking water.
"When we spray glyphosate on the fields by the rules, it has been
shown that it is washed down into the upper groundwater with a
concentration of 0.54 micrograms per litre. This is very surprising,
because we had previously believed that bacteria in the soil broke down
the glyphosate before it reached the ground water," says DGGRI.
Glyphosate had also been found earlier in wells in Roskilde and
Storstroms regions as well as the Copenhagen district council area. The
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges that the material
does have the potential to contaminate surface waters.
If glyphosate reaches surface water, it is not broken down readily by
water or sunlight. The half-life of glyphosate in pond water ranges from
70 to 84 days.
When the chemical was first detected in Denmark's groundwater,
Professor Mogens Henze, head of the Institute for Environment and
Resources at Denmark's Technical University, responded by stating,
"The results show that glyphosate is polluting our drinking
water. And unfortunately we have only seen the tip of the iceberg,
because glyphosate and many other spray chemicals are on their way through
the soil at this point in time. Politicians need to look at agriculture in
relation to clean drinking water and decide what it is they are going to
The new restrictions specifically ban spraying of glyphosate on sites
"where leaching is extensive because of heavy rain." There are a
number of exceptions to the restrictions, which are subject to
revision after an interim consultation period. Still, Monsanto, Syngenta
and other manufacturers of the chemical issued complaints that the
restrictions are "unacceptable" for the producers or Danish
Statistics from the Environment Ministry show that glyphosate use has
doubled in Denmark in the last five years. In 2001, 800 tons were
used, which made up a quarter of farmers' total use of pesticides.
Use of the herbicide is also widespread in the U.S. According to EPA's
most recent data on pesticide usage, glyphosate was the seventh most
widely used active ingredient in agriculture, with 34 to 38 million pounds
used in 1997. In 1995/96, glyphosate ranked as the second most used active
ingredient in non-agricultural settings, with five to seven million pounds
used in the home and garden and nine to twelve million pounds used in
Although glyphosate use is widespread, there are many concerns
regarding its health effects. In fact, the most recent data (1998) from
California's Department of Pesticide Regulation finds that glyphosate
ranks first among herbicides as the highest causes of pesticide-induced
illness or injury to people in California.
Symptoms following exposure to glyphosate formulations include: swollen
eyes, face and joints; facial numbness; burning and/or itching skin;
blisters; rapid heart rate; elevated blood pressure; chest pains,
congestion; coughing; headache; and nausea. It is also linked to
chronic health effects.
A 1999 study, A Case-Control Study of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and Exposure
to Pesticides, (American Cancer Society, 1999), found that people exposed
to glyphosate are 2.7 times more likely to contract non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
For more information on glyphosate, see Beyond Pesticides' Glyphosate
ChemWATCH fact sheet. Read about glyphosate's connection to toxic fungi
growth in the August 29, 2003 edition of Daily News.