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Herbicidal Hell Unleashed on National Parks

Herbicidal Hell Unleashed on National Parks
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Millions of pounds of toxic glyphosate are dumped on our national parks and forests. Action Alert!

Ah, the great outdoors, where we can experience the wonders of nature, walk amongst the trees, sink our toes into the dirt…but not, unfortunately, escape the spraying of toxic chemicals that make us sick. Many of us may be aware that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the popular herbicide Roundup as well as other products, is sprayed on agricultural crops, but lesser known is the fact that glyphosate-containing herbicides are regularly applied to national parks and forests. That our national parks are sprayed with this poison is a travesty. Science confirms that time spent in nature helps heal us, decreasing chronic disease risk among other benefits. In the modern world we are assaulted with toxic exposures almost everywhere. We need places where we can go to escape and heal; national forests should provide such a sanctuary, and now these areas, too, are being sprayed with poison. It has to stop.

In the words of one state parks official, “It’s been the go-to herbicide for park agencies for a long time.” Scroll to the bottom of this article to see pictures taken by an ANH staff member demonstrating what you can expect to find in national parks where this practice goes on. The pesticide is dyed blue so those spraying it can see where it has been applied so they don’t waste chemicals.

Some estimates are that 1-2 percent of the glyphosate applied in the US goes on forests. That may not sound like a lot, but when we consider that 280 million pounds of glyphosate are used every year, even a small fraction is millions of pounds. The increasing frequency of wildfires is making the problem worse. These fires scorch hundreds of thousands of acres of national forests. Weeds sprout up from the ash, leading the Forest Service to spray chemical weedkillers like glyphosate to try to get trees to grow again. In California, the Forest Service used 16,740 pounds of glyphosate on nearly 6,000 acres in 2018, which was double the amount from the previous year.

There are many problems with this. First, there are clear human health implications that we’ve discussed many times before. These include: increased risk of cancer, endocrine-disruption, celiac disease, autism, effect on erythrocytes, and leaky-gut syndrome. It’s shameful that we need to be thinking about these human health effects when we go into nature.

Agencies responsible for spraying glyphosate on forests point to the EPA’s conclusions that glyphosate is perfectly safe. This industry-friendly position contradicts the World Health Organizations International Agency for Research on Cancer, which concluded in 2016 that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The disturbing fact is that glyphosate could be the least of our worries from a health standpoint. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, which contains other “inert” chemicals. Research has shown that herbicide adjuvants—the chemicals other than the active ingredient—can be up to 1,000 times more toxic than the active ingredient itself! These additives can make up as much as 95 percent of the product, they do not need to be tested for toxicity, and they do not need to be disclosed on product labels. When we do have information, the facts are hardly reassuring: according to one study, more than 200 chemicals used as inert ingredients are listed as hazardous pollutants in federal statutes governing air and water quality. 

A brief word on the EPA: we recently reported on whistleblower accounts demonstrating the lengths to which senior EPA officials go to ensure that chemicals, no matter how dangerous, get approved for use in the US despite warnings from their own scientists. It’s this cronyism that keeps dangerous chemicals like glyphosate on the market. Case in point: court documents have shown that a top EPA official, Jess Rowland, promised Monsanto he would quash an effort by the Department of Health and Human Services Department (HHS) to conduct its own review of glyphosate. He was successful—the HHS review never happened. A letter from a former EPA employee dying of cancer accused Rowland of having intimidated staff, compelling them to change reports to make them favorable to Monsanto.

Spraying glyphosate could actually be making wildfires worse. In Canada, glyphosate is sprayed by the forestry industry to promote coniferous tree growth (pine, fir, spruce), which is more profitable, and to eliminate hardwood species like aspen and birch. The problem is hardwood trees burn slower, so using glyphosate to eliminate them is literally stoking future wildfires.

Additionally, studies have shown that glyphosate can remain in forest plant tissues for more than a decade. The authors note that the levels that persist in plants are low, but the “cumulative impact of long-term residual glyphosate should be considered” when assessing exposure to “chronic, low-concentrations of glyphosate and other chemicals in the environment.”

Studies show the healing power of being in nature. It decreases the risk of chronic disease, from decreasing blood pressure and cardiovascular disease risk to improving blood sugar, decreasing anxiety and depression, and improving chronic pain. By dousing our forests in herbicides, we replace these health promoting properties with disease-causing exposures. It is completely unacceptable.

Action Alert! Write to Congress and the EPA, telling them to immediately halt the use of glyphosate and other herbicides on national parks and forests. Please send your message immediately.

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