The June print edition of The Voice of Guanacaste included information pointing to a possible link between the use of the herbicide glyphosate and areas where the water has been contaminated by arsenic and heavy metals that have high death rates due to renal disease in Guanacaste. Following that issue’s publication, the corporation CropLife Latin America contacted The Voice to deny that the relationship exists.
Martin Zuñiga, regional director for Central American and the Caribbean for CropLife Latin America, denied that chronic renal failure (CRF) is caused by pesticides. “We as an industry have our own studies, but we do not want to use those studies as a base to demonstrate that chronic renal failure is not caused by pesticides,” said Zuñiga during an interview with The Voice of Guanacaste.
In addition, Zuñiga stated that CropLife supports international organizations financing long-term studies done by “independent researches and renowned scientists that can define the sickness and its behavior in order to develop prevention, which is the most important, and the appropriate treatment for people who now suffer from the disease.”
“There is not enough research, but as it affects people, we as an industry have proposed to help governments,” affirmed the executive.
The scientific explanation is that when glyphosate combines with certain environmental factors and heavy metals, it can damage kidney tissues. According to a study done by the Journal of Environmental Research, glyphosate is absorbed by the soil, filters down to groundwater sources and therefore can be found in drinking water. It can also be absorbed through the skin or the respiratory tract by workers who are applying the chemical to crops.
Glyphosate is currently the most-used herbicide in both Costa Rica and the world. It is used on “resistant, genetically-modified crops as a ripening agent for sugarcane.” In addition, glyphosate is the main active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, produced by Monsanto.
CropLife Latin America is a nonprofit international trade organization made up of nine companies, including Bayer, Dupont, Syngenta, Monsanto, Dow, Arysta Lifescience, Basf, Sumitomo Chemical and FMC.
Zuñiga pointed out that the Regional Institute of Studies on Toxic Substances (IRET – Instituto Regional de Estudios en Sustancias Toxicas) of the National University has done several long-term studies on the subject that have concluded that CRF “is a problem whose origin has multiple factors, of which pesticides are not considered among the primary ones of interest as being responsible for the disease.”
When asked if glyphosate accumulates in the subsoil and groundwater, he said, “There has been a lot of research in this area, and basically what we know about the product is that it rapidly degrades in the soil. Remainders [of glyphosate] have not been found in the research that’s been done.”
Zuñiga was asked if traces of glyphosate have been found in foods or humans. He responded that it would have been found only if the product had been mishandled, which is to say, by fault of the worker. “If someone is poisoned in what is called an acute poisoning and you quickly test this person, it is probable that the product will appear because obviously it was mishandled.”
He continued: “But when we speak of detection, what we do is take samples from society or samples from products that are directly in the market and the active ingredient has never been detected in levels above those established as safe in the World Health Organization’s Codex Alimentarius.”
With regard to the organizations and private individuals who are against the use of glyphosate, Zuñiga said that, “The particular resistance that has come up against glyphosate is an ideological movement that was born in South America that has been moving towards the [Central American] region, because South America is where glyphosate is used the most.” But Zuñiga said that when authorities requested that the groups demonstrate cause to prohibit the product’s use, they couldn’t present any technical or scientific studies to justify it.
“Again, we as an industry are not against regulation that is based on science and technique that justifies it by virtue of the nature of the product. Until today pesticides continue to be the most regulated products in the world and we are in agreement with that, but the regulation should be based on science,” affirmed Zuñiga.
During the conversation, Zuñiga explained that he is in agreement with regulation based on science “because science doesn’t have an ideology.”
Authorities Plan to Study Use of Glyphosate, Arsenic and Renal Failure in Guanacaste
Based on a proposal presented by a professor at the Costa Rican Technological Institute (TEC – Instituto Tecnologico de Costa Rica), authorities are planning a study aimed at addressing the problems of arsenic contamination in Guanacaste’s water supply, renal failure and their relationship with the herbicide glyphosate.
The plans were confirmed to The Voice of Guanacaste by Virginia Montero, a teacher and researcher with TEC.
“We are inviting the National University, the University of Costa Rica and Oregon State University (from the United States) to form a good research team and address all of the arsenic and kidney failure problems,” said Montero. She added, “Doing this is expensive and complex.”
Also, she said that, “This new proposal will include the subject of analyzing whether traces of glyphosate are found in the body.”
The proposal for the new research will be analyzed by TEC and later by the National Council of Rectors (CONARE – Consejo Nacional de Rectores). It is hoped that the project will be approved by September or October.
Control of Water in Private Wells Lacking
Regarding the new proposed study, Montero indicated that the new project will also analyze private wells on farms and other homes, in addition to the water systems operated by AyA.
“There are many private wells that haven’t been controlled and we know that they can have up to 40 parts per million – that is to say 40 micrograms of arsenic per liter – and we have to pat attention to that,” said Montero.