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Four physicians at Kagoshima University, Japan, report that an analysis of 56 cases of Roundup poisoning suggests that the surfactant (a so-called "inert" ingredient) in Roundup causes the herbicide's acute toxicity rather than the herbicidal ingredient, glyphosate. Most of the victims ingested Roundup accidentally or as attempted suicide.
Fifteen percent of Roundup's volume is the surfactant polyoxethyleneamine (POEA), while 41 percent is glyphosate. POEA is over three times as acutely toxic as glyphosate and belongs to a class of surfactants which includes a spermicidal agent. This class of compounds is known to cause gastrointestinal and central nervous system symptoms and hemolysis; these symptoms are similar to the symptoms exhibited by the Roundup poisoning victims.
The physicians report that they also studied two other patients who had ingested surfactants. These patients had symptoms very similar to Roundup poisoning.
Glyphosate has been assumed to have low animal toxicity because the enzyme system which it inhibits is specific to plants. This study is further evidence that estimates of the toxicity of a pesticide need to be based on the entire formulation, rather than just the active ingredients.
1. Sawada. Yusuke, Yoshikazu Nagai, Masashi Ueyama, and Isotoshi Yamamoto. 1988. Probable toxicity of surface-active agent in commercial herbicide containing glyphosate . The Lancet 1 (8580):299.
2. Monsanto Company. 1985. Monsanto material data sheet: Roundup herbicide. St. Louis, MO.
Citation for this article: Cox,Caroline 1988, "Roundup's inert surfactant is poisonous", Journal of Pesticide Reform, Vol 8, No. 1, Spring 1988, pp 30.
Copyright © 1988 Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides.
Reprinted with permission.
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