Herbicides containing glyphosate are used in more than 130 countries on more than 100 crops. In the United States (U.S.), agricultural use of glyphosate [N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine] has increased from less than 10,000 metric tons per year (active ingredient) in 1993 to more than 70,000 metric tons per year in 2006. In 2006, glyphosate accounted for about 20 percent of all herbicide use (by weight of active ingredient). Glyphosate formulations such as Roundup® are used in homes and in agriculture. Part of the reason for the popularity of glyphosate is the perception that it is an “environmentally benign” herbicide that has low toxicity and little mobility or persistence in the environment. The U.S. Geological Survey developed an analytical method using liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry that can detect small amounts of glyphosate and its primary degradation product aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) in water and sediment. Results from more than 2,000 samples collected from locations distributed across the U.S. indicate that glyphosate is more mobile and occurs more widely in the environment than was previously thought. Glyphosate and AMPA were detected (reporting limits between 0.1 and 0.02 micrograms per liter) in samples collected from surface water, groundwater, rainfall, soil water, and soil, at concentrations from less than 0.1 to more than 100 micrograms per liter. Glyphosate was detected more frequently in rain (86%), ditches and drains (71%), and soil (63%); and less frequently in groundwater (3%) and large rivers (18%). AMPA was detected more frequently in rain (86%), soil (82%), and large rivers (78%); and less frequently in groundwater (8%) and wetlands or vernal pools (37%). Most observed concentrations of glyphosate were well below levels of concern for humans or wildlife, and none exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Maximum Contaminant Level of 700 micrograms per liter. However, the ecosystem effects of chronic low-level exposures to mixtures of pesticides are uncertain, and some studies have attributed toxic effects on biota to the surfactants or other adjuvants that are included in common glyphosate formulations.
Additional Publication Details
Glyphosate and AMPA in U.S. streams, groundwater, precipitation and soils
Journal of the American Water Resources Association