The age group most at risk of having weedkiller in their system
Oct 3 2022.
One-in-12 Australians have a common weedkiller in their system, research has discovered, but who is most at risk is not evenly spread across the population.
Researchers from the University of Queensland tested urine samples from more than 1800 Australians, finding 8 per cent had low levels of glyphosate in their system.
Dr Sarit Kaserzon from UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences said the result was good news, relatively speaking, when compared with the rates of the chemical found in other countries.
“In the United States, for example, according to the CDC report recently 80 to 90 per cent of samples came back positive,” she said.
“In France they recorded even higher numbers, so we’re very relieved to see that levels are much lower in Australia, but there’s still things to examine about how people are being exposed here.”
Kaserzon stressed that the levels at which the chemical was found in people’s systems were below the recommended safe guidelines, meaning that even the people who had it in their system were probably not at risk.
However much work was being done on the effect of glyphosate on humans, and what was a “safe” level was yet to be determined sufficiently, she said.
The question is the subject of legal action, including an Australian class action against chemical giant Monsanto, scheduled for hearing in 2023.
The urine samples were sourced from pathology samples which had been de-identified except for demographic information such as age and sex.
The research discovered people in the 45-60 age group were much more likely to have glyphosate in their system.
Kaserzon said they did not have any direct evidence, but the levels involved and the age group suggested it was household gardeners who were directly using products containing glyphosate.
The UQ researchers partnered with New Zealand’s Massey University to compare the Australian levels with 27 farmers who work with glyphosate in that country.
They found the farmers’ levels were much higher than the samples from Australia, which gave them an indication that people who directly used the product were most at risk, rather than people acquiring it through food and drink.
Lead research author, UQ PhD candidate Garth Campbell, said the finding suggested extra precautions should be taken by anyone using glyphosate products, even casually.
“Farmers or anyone else who regularly use chemicals containing glyphosate should wear goggles, protective gloves and avoid inhalation of dust and mist,” he said.
“I also highly recommend additional measures including protective clothing, mask wearing and hand washing after handling a product with glyphosate, and ensure it is stored safely.”
Kaserzon said more monitoring was needed to get more accurate figures about its prevalence in the population.
“More research is also needed into whether adults excrete it from their urine at the same rate,” she said.
“We assume that 20 per cent of [glyphosate] you ingest is excreted, but recent studies suggest it could be as low as 1 per cent, which means we’re under-estimating how much people are exposed.
“For the general population it might not make much difference but it would have a huge impact on farmers, which means more work is needed.”