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How Do Kids End up With Higher Levels of Weed Killer?

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, may be accumulating in higher levels in kids than in their parents, according to a biomonitoring study by the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), a nonprofit group focused on protecting people from toxins.1

Glyphosate has made headlines for landmark lawsuits, in which plaintiffs have been awarded billions in damages after juries agreed the chemical was responsible for their cancer diagnoses. Glyphosate is often associated with genetically engineered (GE) crops, as Roundup Ready GE crops are designed to survive direct dousing of Roundup.

This is a major usage for the chemical, but it’s not the only way people are being exposed. Glyphosate is also found in a staggering amount of non-GE foods, as it’s used as a desiccant, or drying agent, to speed up harvesting of non-GE grains and legumes. 

As a result, popular foods among children, like breakfast cereal and oatmeal, may be among the most glyphosate-contaminated foods on the market, and could be driving up exposures in this vulnerable population.

Children are more exposed to glyphosate than adults

The CEH study involved 11 families who lived in California, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas and Vermont. Urine samples from parents and children were tested for glyphosate and aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), the main metabolite of glyphosate, to reveal recent exposures to the chemical. 

Only two of the people in the study (a parent and a child) were free from glyphosate, while the rest — 91% — had measurable quantities. Results for AMPA were similar. 

When the level of glyphosate was factored in, in nine of the 12 parent-child pairs, the child’s body had higher concentrations of glyphosate than the adult. According to CEH, “We just completed a small study to help answer an important question: Are children more exposed to glyphosate than adults? Based on our results, the answer to this question is yes.”2

A probable human carcinogen and endocrine disrupter

It’s a concerning finding, as in 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer categorized glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen.” Further, evidence suggests pesticides are associated with chronic health conditions, including neurodevelopmental or behavioral problems, birth defects, asthma and cancer, in children.3

Glyphosate is also an endocrine disrupter, which may, “affect our body at extremely low levels,” Sue Chaing, the pollution prevention director at the CEH, said in a news release.4 In a 2018 report, CEH explained three key reasons why glyphosate’s endocrine-disrupting properties are especially dangerous for children:5

“One, they interfere with the body’s hormonal signals and processes in ways that can cause cancer, diabetes, strokes, and reproductive problems. Even more alarming is that EDCs [endocrine-disrupting chemicals] can cause health issues that are passed on to future generations. 

The third key reason EDC exposure is so worrisome is that many of these chemicals appear to be most harmful in low, long-term exposures, the kind of dose one would be exposed to by eating foods containing trace amounts of glyphosate. 

Infants and children are especially vulnerable to EDC exposure as they are coming into contact with these chemicals precisely when their growing bodies are undergoing fundamental developmental processes mediated by hormones.”

What’s more, as noted in the journal Pediatrics, “[C]hildren’s unique behaviors and metabolic rate often place them at risk for absorption of higher doses from contaminated environments in comparison with adults.”6

Children, for instance, consume more food and fluids per pound of body weight compared to adults, making their exposure greater, relatively speaking. They also put their hands in their mouths more often and spend more time on the floor, where greater exposure to contamination via household dust and carpeting may occur.7

However, in kids it’s likely that greater consumption of glyphosate-contaminated foods targeting children could be a primary culprit in their increased levels compared to adults.

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