Sri Lanka implemented a countrywide ban two weeks ago following a scientific study that presented convincing evidence that Roundup appears to combine with toxic pesticides (applied to plants and soil) which in turn leach into hard water (containing heavy chemicals) to create a toxic brew that causes a lethal kidney disease.
Reuters reports that authorities in Brazil are also considering a countrywide ban on the widely used Monsanto herbicide Roundup (which contains glyphosate). A ban on 2, 4 D is also being considered in Brazil.
Both glyphosate and 2, 4 D are widely used in the US in agriculture, including in wine grape growing regions in California, but there has not been an epidemic of chronic kidney disease as the other factors in the deadly combo may not be present. Sri Lanka also uses a lot of Mancozeb and chlorpyrifos.
In addition to Brazil and Sri Lanka, thousands have died in the southern India province of Andra Pradesh and in Central America from chronic kidney disease. Studies correlating the incidence of hard water and glyphosate in these regions have not been released. There are still a number of competing hypotheses in the Central and South American populations.
It's estimated that more than 25,000 have died in Sri Lanka so far; thousands more have died in other regions.
The chronic kidney disease outbreak has puzzled researchers studying the problem from a number of institutions including Stonybrook, Boston University, and Harvard.
But a paper published in Feb. in the International Journal of Research and Public Health by authors from Sri Lanka and Long Beach, California seems to have cracked the riddle of this multifactorial epidemic explaining the mechanics of how glyphosate combines with other compounds. The report's summary states,
"Although glyphosate alone does not cause an epidemic of chronic kidney disease, it seems to have acquired the ability to destroy the renal tissues of thousands of farmers when it forms complexes with a localized geo environmental factor (hardness) and nephrotoxic metals."
The study's authors believe the same pathway is at work in the other tropical regions where chronic kidney disease is at epidemic levels. In addition, Reuters reported, the researchers, "noted that earlier studies had shown that typical glyphosate half-life of around 47 days in soil can increase up to 22 years after forming hard to biodegrade “strong complexes with metal ions.”
Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, has also been under siege in Argentina for glyphosate, as Reuters reported earlier. A combination of factors has led to conflict there.
The Associated Press found numerous instances of improperly applying the herbicide too close to homes and schools.
But aside from misuse of toxics, the respected scientist Andres Carrasco - a University of Buenos Aires medical school professor, head of the Molecular Embryology Laboratory at University of Buenos Aires and chief scientist at the National Council for Science and Technology - has conducted tests using Roundup on embryos and documented glyphosate's negative health effects. He spoke at the University of California, Irvine at a public health conference about his research, which you can see on YouTube here or below:
Obviously these stories relate to third world, heavy pesticide use applications. If anything these are more typical of the intensive applications of glyphosate in the corn and soy heartland of the Midwest where Roundup is used in higher concentrations than wine grape growing in California.
However, it's good to know what's happening with the widely used herbicide in the broader context and how it changes when it comes in contact with other substances. The Sri Lanka story is a dramatic medical detective story - possibly writ large.