Of all the contaminants out there, you’d never expect to find chemicals and herbicides in your drinking water. Unfortunately, concerns about glyphosate in drinking water have been on the rise recently, and this agricultural chemical could have dangerous effects on your health.
In this guide, I’ll be sharing everything you need to know about glyphosate, including what it is, how it works, the health effects of glyphosate, and how to protect yourself from this herbicide.
Table of Contents
🤔 What is Glyphosate?
Glyphosate is a type of herbicide derived from an amino acid called glycine. Typically, glyphosate is used on aquatic plants, grasses, and broadleaf weeds, and is sprayed directly onto plants or on the soil before planting to control weed growth.
Considered the “world’s most used herbicide”, glyphosate is found in Roundup, a common brand of weed and grass killers. Since Roundup was introduced in the 1970s, its use has increased significantly, and the National Pesticide Information Center predicts that there are more than 750 products with glyphosate as an active ingredient currently for sale.
How Does Roundup Work?
Roundup disrupts a metabolic pathway in plants known as the shikimic pathway. This is needed by plants for survival, and inhibiting this pathway reduces the plant’s ability to produce a type of enzyme, which in turn produces amino acids that make protein.
Like most living things, plants need proteins to grow. Without the ability to make protein, plants eventually die. This entire process from start to finish can take up to 20 days.
What Are the Different Types of Glyphosate?
There are several forms of glyphosate, both solid and liquid, including:
- Acid form (popular in farming)
- Potassium salt
- Isopropylamine salt
- Mono- and diammonium salt
- Trimethylsulfonium salt
- Sodium salt
🎑 Where is Roundup Used?
Glyphosate is typically used in forestry and agricultural applications. It may also be an option for aquatic operations, and is found in many at-home garden maintenance and lawn care products.
Let’s look at glyphosate’s uses in more detail:
Glyphosate is sprayed in forests as a form of weed control, to aid the growth of new or existing trees and get rid of competing vegetation.
The most popular use of glyphosate is as a weed killer in agricultural applications. Field corn and soybeans, which have been genetically modified to tolerate this herbicide, are usually sprayed with glyphosate to encourage better crop growth and deter weeds. Glyphosate can regulate certain types of plant growth in its sodium salt form, and is also used on pastures and hay.
In aquatic settings, glyphosate can also be an option for weed control. With a half-life of less than a week, glyphosate is considered effective at treating submerged and floating weeds, without posing a major risk to aquatic life.
Finally, glyphosate is included in a number of DIY weed killers for at-home use. As one of the strongest weed killers available, glyphosate can be sprayed onto unwanted plants and can kill them within a matter of days.
☠️ Impacts & Risks Associated With Glyphosate
Glyphosate was obviously never intended as a drinking water ingredient. For that reason, glyphosate in water can have a number of dangerous effects. There is also evidence to suggest that glyphosate poses an ecological and environmental health concern.
Information about the health risks of glyphosate is conflicting. However, some of the potential health risks associated with glyphosate include:
A number of animal studies have found that ingesting high doses of glyphosate has a carcinogenic effect. Glyphosate has been classed as a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, because it may potentially assist in the development of kidney and liver tumors. At the moment, however, this chemical isn’t considered a carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Organ Diseases, Birth Defects & More
There are a number of other potential health effects of glyphosate, according to early research. A 2019 study of the generational toxicity of glyphosate found that after exposure to this chemical, the third and fourth generations of offspring had birth defects, kidney and ovarian disease, prostate disease, and more.
Glyphosate targets a different metabolic pathway in plants than in animals, which means that animals shouldn’t be affected by this chemical in the same way that plants are. However, several studies highlight the potential ecological impacts of glyphosate:
Increased Bee Mortality
One study found that pesticides and herbicides are linked to reduced bee mortality worldwide – and, in fact, exposure to chemicals like glyphosate is a known factor that accounts for declining bee populations.
A study by the University of Birmingham found that prolonged exposure to Roundup significantly harms keystone species, and can damage DNA, causes embryonic development failure, and interfere with gut and metabolic function in an aquatic species known as Daphnia.
Glyphosate has the potential to linger in the environment for years. In that time, it may have the following environmental impacts:
Affects Crop Health
When glyphosate is applied to control problem plants, it can reach non-target areas and affect the health of nearby plants, according to a 2019 report. This can result in distorted fruit and affect growth in crops like cotton, maize, and rapeseed.
May be Re-Absorbed By Plants
Though glyphosate in soil has a relatively short half-life of between 2 and 197 days, the same report found that it can leach far down into soils and be reabsorbed by plants or absorbed by new plants, including non-target plants, potentially damaging them.
🏞️ How Does Glyphosate Get Into Water?
Surface runoff is the most common cause of glyphosate in drinking water. Glyphosate, and other pesticides and herbicides, can wash into rivers, streams and ditches when it rains or snows. Glyphosate may also seep into the ground and end up in underground aquifers. Even urban run-off from gardens can send glyphosate into a body of water that ends up supplying drinking water.
Maximum Contaminant Load (MCL) of Roundup in Water
Glyphosate has a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) of 700 ppb, or parts per billion. This means that the levels of glyphosate in a public drinking water supply should never exceed 700 ppb.
This MCL only applies to public drinking water supplies. Private wells are unregulated, and it is the well owner’s responsibility to test for this herbicide in their water and remove it if detected.
🧪 How to Test for Glyphosate in Drinking Water
There are two ways to test for most contaminants in drinking water: using at-home test kits or arranging for laboratory testing. However, glyphosate is a contaminant that can’t be detected by the average at-home water quality testing kit. If you want to find out whether your water contains glyphosate, you’ll need to send off samples to a certified laboratory.
Getting your water tested for glyphosate concentrations by a laboratory will give you the clearest results. A laboratory test will tell you exactly how much glyphosate is detected in your water samples, measured in ppb (parts per billion).
Usually, when you get your water tested by a lab, you’ll be asked to send off one or several water samples to the laboratory. Your samples will be tested in the lab, and your results will be returned to you by email, usually within 1 week.
My recommended certified laboratory is SimpleLab by Tap Score. You can buy a specialized test for glyphosate that costs around $130.
🛡️ How to Protect Yourself from Glyphosate
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to personally reduce the concentrations of glyphosate, or any other pesticides and herbicides, in the groundwater in your local area. Roundup is still widely used in agriculture, and there isn’t enough evidence of its environmental impact to impose stricter regulations on its use.
Luckily, removing glyphosate from drinking water is possible – and affordable. You can use an at-home water treatment system to greatly reduce or remove glyphosate, ensuring that your water is safe to drink.
Click here to learn more about how to remove glyphosate from your water with at-home treatment systems.