Endgame for glyphosate? The global fallout of WHO’s ‘probable carcinogen’ classification

12 June 2015

(Republished per permission of the Institute for Science in Society)

Could it be that the World Health Organisation’s classification of glyphosate as a ‘probable carcinogen’ (see [1] Glyphosate ‘Probably Carcinogenic to Humans’ Latest WHO AssessmentSiS 66) will be the final nail in the coffin for the world’s most popular herbicide and Monsanto’s flagship product.

Recent weeks have seen the intensification of campaigns to ban or remove the product as well as lawsuits being filed against Monsanto; in the US for false safety claims of glyphosate, and in China, for hiding toxicity studies from the public.

El Salvador has already banned the chemical though yet to be signed into law [2], while the Netherlands last year banned private sales [3]. Sri Lanka had a partial ban in place in regions most afflicted by chronic kidney disease that has been linked to glyphosate use (see later).

People have known the truth for years. Industry and government regulators have conspired to bury copious evidence of toxicity for decades, and they feel to some extent vindicated by the latest WHO assessment (see [4] Glyphosate and CancerSiS 62) and [5] EU Regulators and Monsanto Exposed for Hiding Glyphosate ToxicitySiS 51). More importantly, governments are finally beginning to take action. Read more »

The State of Nature in the EU: an unfavourable picture for freshwaters

26 May 2015

17910020498_be9dd74ee4_k

Avon Meadows Community Wetlands in Worcestershire, England have been created on the rural-urban fringe to encourage biodiversity, reduce flooding and improve water quality on the nearby River Avon. Image: Geoff Moore | Flickr | Creative Commons

Last week the European Environment Agency released their ‘State of Nature in the EU‘ report, which uses comprehensive data collected across the continent between 2008-2012 assess the status of and trends in biodiversity and natural habitats across Europe.  Data on Europe’s species and habitats was collected by individual countries (or member states) as part of monitoring for the Birds Directive and the Habitat Directive – European environmental policies designed to help guide conservation, protected area management and environmental restoration across the continent (more information on these at the bottom of the post).

Hans Bruyninckx, the Executive Director of the European Environment Agency said“This unique assessment is a first of its kind, building on extensive observation networks of experts and citizens alike. Despite some information gaps, it provides the most complete picture of Europe’s biodiversity to date.  The results are mixed but clear. When implemented well, conservation measures work and improve the status of habitats and species on the ground. Such improvements remain limited and patchy, and unfortunately Europe’s biodiversity is still being eroded overall and the pressures continue”

The results of the study for freshwaters are largely unfavourable.  Around half of the conservation status of river and lake habitats and species reported to the Habitats Directive are deemed ‘unfavourable-inadequate‘.  It is worth noting that the habitats and species assessed by the Habitats Directive were already deemed rare, endangered or otherwise threatened.  However, the picture is still not positive: around a third of these conservation statuses are in decline, suggesting that a significant proportion of Europe’s freshwater species and habitats face significant threats to their health and diversity.

Rivers and lakes were found to be most impacted by modifications to natural conditions (for example: river channel modification and fragmentation, water abstraction, draining of wetlands), water pollution and the impact of agriculture (e.g. fertiliser run-off).  Changes to natural conditions were particularly damaging pressures for birds which live in freshwater habitats, presumably due to a reduction in available nesting and feeding sites.

Protected area designation was reported as the most popular conservation measure implemented by member states to mitigate the identified threats for both birds and wider habitats.  For non-bird species – largely fish, invertebrates and amphibians – conservation measures were more diverse, including restoring hydrological regimes, legally protecting habitats and species, and improving water quality.

MARS project leader Daniel Hering commented on the findings, suggesting that whilst water quality in Europe is improving, any widespread improvements in freshwater biodiversity and habitat quality lag well behind:

“The negative assessment of river and lake conservation status is in line with the results of the Water Framework Directive monitoring. Both the assessment under the Habitats Directive and under the Water Framework Directive rate the status of lakes and rivers quite negatively.

The results are consistent but also quite surprising for many people who acknowledge the great improvement of water quality in recent decades. Strong pollution has vanished from European rivers and lakes – but biodiversity and ecosystem functions are still impoverished.

Freshwater ecosystems in most parts of Europe are still stressed, but the stressors are less visible than in former times. Eutrophication, pesticides, removal of riparian vegetation, water abstraction – all these stressors affect a large proportion of Europe’s waters. In former times the wastewater from households and industries were the main threat; nowadays, it is the way we practise agriculture.”

Read the State of Nature in the EU Report online

The Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive

The Birds Directive was set up in 1979, and aims to protect all wild birds with natural ranges inside Europe, and identifies 193 species which are in need of special conservation measures due variously to rarity, threat of extinction or loss of habitat.  The Birds Directive also requires European member states to designate Special Protection Areas for the conservation of endangered bird species.

The Habitats Directive was set up in 1992 with the aim of ensuring the conservation of rare, threatened or endemic species of plants and animals across Europe.  The Directive covers over 1,250 species and 233 habitat types across the continent, and requires member states to designate and manage Special Areas of Conservation and implement other management measures to restrict the taking, capturing or killing of important plant and animal species.

Re-posted with the kind permission of thefreshwaterblog

Nutrient pollution can harm stream ecosystems in previously unknown ways

23 April 2015

15273019579_a5b94c00ec_k

A North Carolina forest stream. Image: Jenn Deane | Flickr Creative Commons

It has long been known that nutrient pollution – the overloading of chemicals such as nitrogen and phosphates from sources such as agricultural fertilisers – can have potentially harmful effects on freshwater ecosystems.  In particular, eutrophication – the rapid growth of algal ‘blooms’ – can starve the aquatic environment of light and dissolved oxygen, prompting shifts in the form and function of the ecosystem, and potentially causing collapses in populations of other freshwater plants and animals. Read more »

Hydrocitizenship: A passport to civil society awareness of water and aquatic ecosystems

16 March 2015

Image: Hydrocitizenship

Image: Hydrocitizenship

Hydrocitizenship is a UK project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which seeks to investigate the relationships between water and humans through a number of creative, interdisciplinary approaches.  The project website outlines that: “The term ‘hydrocitizenship’ has been adopted in reference to the more established notion of “ecological citizenship” which sees transformations in how society works at individual and collective levels as essential if we are to generate more meaningful, ecologically sustainable forms of society. In our project, we put this idea to work within the contemporary contexts of individual and community engagements with water.” Read more »

Corridors and buffers: Claudia Gray on riparian zones in Malaysia and across the world

22 December 2014

River riparian zone in oil palm plantation, Sabah, Malaysia.  Image: Claudia Gray

River riparian zone in oil palm plantation, Sabah, Malaysia. Image: Claudia Gray


Claudia Gray
 is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow in Ecology and Conservation at the University of Sussex.  Working in collaboration with PREDICTS, her work uses the project’s global biodiversity database to investigate how landscape management can help biodiversity conservation.

In the past, Claudia’s research has explored approaches to sustainable management of oil palm plantations in Sabah, Malaysia.  One of the things she’s found is that riparian buffer zones – the strips of ‘natural’ vegetation left intact along river banks – are not only important for conserving freshwater ecosystems, but that they can help provide habitat for land-based animals, too.

Claudia is now looking to collate information on riparian zone management and legislation across the world.  We spoke to her to find out more. Read more »

Photos of South African algal blooms and scums needed

1 December 2014

Roodeplaat Dam 28 November 2014 (Milke Silberbauer).

Roodeplaat Dam 28 November 2014 (Milke Silberbauer).

Many South African dams suffer from nutrient enrichment, known as ‘eutrophication’.  Around 70% of the water stored in our dams is eutrophic or hypertrophic, indicating that we have a serious problem.  Droplets is seeking recent photographs of algal blooms taken anywhere in South Africa.

If you spot an algal bloom, please send us the photo (high resolution please) with the location and date – all of the images will appear on a special webpage and three contributors will win a prize.

Photos should be emailed to us at admin@dhec.co.za

We look forward to your contributions!

Typical farm dam algal scum

Typical farm dam algal scum (Andre van Halderen)

 

Apartheid urban demographics reflected in human exposure to trace metals

3 November 2014

There is much in the press recently concerning Acid Mine Drainage and exposure to potentially-toxic trace metals.  A thesis completed last year reveals how urban demographic divides focussed the accumulation of different metals in South African race groups.  Speaking from experience, it is very difficult to obtain funding for epidemiological-type research in South Africa, rendering studies such as this one all the more valuable. (bold text sections are my emphasis)

Exposure to toxic elements is a significant threat to public and individual health worldwide. Toxic elements such as heavy metals are associated with increased mortality and morbidity in both men and women and are a substantial contributor to neurological deficits and developmental delay in children. Analysis of skeletal material yields important information regarding exposure to toxic elements in a given population. This project has investigated toxic element exposure in 215 adults living in urban South Africa who died between 1960 and 1999. Exposure to toxic elements, particularly exposure to lead, has significant impacts on human health, even at very low levels. To date, little research has been conducted on human exposure to toxic elements in adult urban South Africans and a clear gap exists regarding toxic element exposure rates during the latter half of the 20th century. Among the primary aims of this research is to address this gap in knowledge and to quantify human exposure to these elements during the apartheid era. Bone element concentration was analysed by ICP-MS to determine the concentration of six elements that are toxic to humans: lead, cadmium, manganese, arsenic, antimony and vanadium. The results of this research demonstrate clear racial divisions in toxic element exposure in all but one element investigated. In the case of lead and cadmium, white males in the sampled population show significantly higher bone element concentrations than either black males or black females. It is surmised that apartheid-era separation of racial groups in regards to residence, occupation and movement within the urban landscape are partly, if not significantly, responsible for these differences in toxic element exposure. Lead exposure is strongly associated with exposure to traffic in urban Pretoria and Johannesburg, which is evident in both the limited environmental data available and the present study. Designated residential areas for white individuals were situated in and adjacent to the central business districts of both cities and are the areas associated with high traffic. Black residential areas were located on the urban periphery, often near industrial areas and mine dumps. The result is a lead exposure pattern by which white individuals in the sampled population yield double the bone lead concentration of black individuals. The wide divide in socioeconomic strata between the black and white population also factors significantly and is an additional result of apartheid policy. For arsenic and antimony, black individuals, particularly females, show significantly higher bone element concentration than white individuals. These elements are strongly associated with acid mine drainage, a form of pollution which results from mining activity. The close proximity of black residential areas to mining activities and the heavy reliance on contaminated surface water is likely responsible for higher exposure rates to these elements in the black population. This research has established that rates of exposure to toxic elements in urban Transvaal were moderate considering the level of industrial and mining activity in the region and the notably lax environmental regulations in place during the latter half of the 20th century. Despite this, bone element levels, particularly that of lead, cadmium and manganese are within ranges documented to cause negative impacts on human health. It is highly likely, given the bone element concentrations reported here, that these elements caused significant and negative health effects in the sampled population and were a clear threat to overall public health in urban South Africans.

Source:  Hess, C, 2013. Demographic differences in exposure to toxic trace elements in urban South Africa during the 20th century. PhD Thesis (PhD). Bournemouth University, School of Applied Sciences.

The shortsightedness of using grass carp as a lake management tool

4 September 2014

Pondweeds are a vital part of healthy aquatic environments (Photo: Bill Harding)

Pondweeds are a vital part of healthy aquatic environments (Photo: Bill Harding)

In nearly thirty years of working in the field of aquatic ecosystems, I have yet to see a single example of using grass carp as a means to ‘control’ aquatic plants actually being successful.  I was asked about this again this week and thought it best to lay out a few facts here:

For some reason or other, people who live around lakes and ornamental ponds don’t want to see any plants in the water.  Now, I am not talking about noxious floating species such as Kariba weed or water hyacinth or red water fern, rather the rooted, filamentous pond weeds that are characteristic of many local waters.  Pondweeds, belonging to the genus Potamogeton, together with many smaller sub-canopy types such as Chara and Nitella, provide essential functions and ecosystem stabilisation which, once lost through irresponsible management, are almost impossible to replace. Read more »

Algal Toxins in Water Supplies: It won’t happen here… or… will it?

19 August 2014

A couple of posts ago I mentioned the incident in Toledo (Ohio) that caused many to padlock (figuratively) their taps and take to their computers about the topic of algal toxins.  An article of a couple of days ago speculates whether water supplies in the Philadelphia area are even likely to produce toxic blue-green algal blooms. Based on experience I would hesitate to make such a sweeping statement.  Here are just three examples of why I say this: Read more »

Chemical pollution threatens Europe’s freshwaters

3 July 2014

Chemical works on Thames estuary. Image: Peter Scrimshaw | Creative Commons LicenceChemical works on Thames estuary. Image: Peter Scrimshaw | Creative Commons Licence

Chemical pollution threatens the health of almost half of all European freshwaters, according to a new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).  Researchers from German, French and Swiss universities used data from 4,000 monitoring sites across Europe to calculate the first continental scale ‘risk assessment’ of the impact of toxic organic chemicals on freshwater ecosystems. Read more »