Glyphosate Issues In California…And Beyond

In 1986, California voters approved Proposition 65, an initiative to address growing concerns about exposure to toxic chemicals. Proposition 65 requires the State to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, and other reproductive harm. This list, which is updated at least annually, has grown to include 800 chemicals since it was first published in 1987.1

The Case against Glyphosate

In March 2015, the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization announced that glyphosate, the world’s most widely-used herbicide, is probably carcinogenic to humans. Glyphosate has been linked to tumors in mice and rats; and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies “mechanistic evidence”, such as DNA damage to human cells, from exposure to glyphosate.

The State of California announced on July 7, 2017 that it will list glyphosate, the main ingredient in the herbicide Roundup™ as “known to the State of California to cause cancer”. The listing would be required in July 2018, and is being challenged by a lawsuit brought by Monsanto (the maker of Roundup™) and other stakeholders against the State. Glyphosate is the most common pesticide in the world and is used in hundreds of products, primarily as a weed killer. The Trump Administration is unlikely to aggressively pursue this issue through the Environmental Protection Agency. However, it is likely that other States will follow California’s lead and promulgate similar regulatory actions. And recently, certain legal ads have begun to appear on television broadcasts asking potentially-impacted people to call attorneys – possibly leading to broader awareness and potential legal liabilities for producers and users of glyphosate.

Additionally, recent private chemical laboratory analytical testing on an array of popular American food products found many samples contained residue levels of glyphosate. The herbicide residues were found in cookies, crackers, popular cold cereals and chips commonly consumed by children and adults. The tests were done on 29 foods commonly found on grocery store shelves. Glyphosate residues were found in General Mills Cheerios, Kashi soft-baked oatmeal dark chocolate cookies, Kellogg’s Special K cereal, Nabisco Triscuit and Ritz Crackers, and several other products, according to the report.2 The chemical has reportedly also been found in various wines.3 A recent analysis done by a senior U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chemist found glyphosate residues in several types of oatmeal products, including baby food, and in several honey samples (at a level higher than allowed in the European Union). A study has also concluded that the chemical has crossed into human breast milk.

For the Defense

Monsanto has repeatedly stated that there are no legitimate safety concerns regarding glyphosate when it is used as intended, and that toxicological studies in animals have demonstrated that glyphosate does not cause cancer, birth defects, DNA damage, nervous system problems, immune system effects, endocrine disruption or reproductive problems. The company, which has been making a profit of roughly five billion dollars a year from glyphosate-based products, says any glyphosate residues in food are too minimal to be harmful.

Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FDA have echoed Monsanto’s reassurances in the past, citing the chemical’s proven safety as justification for not including glyphosate residue testing in annual programs that test thousands of food products each year for hundreds of different herbicide types. But the lack of routine government monitoring has made it difficult for consumers and regulators to determine what levels of glyphosate are present in foods, and questions about the chemical’s safety persist.

Residues and Receptors

A key reason glyphosate residues are present in so many food products is related to its widespread use in food production. Glyphosate is sprayed directly on several crops genetically engineered to tolerate the herbicide, such as corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and canola. It is also applied directly on many types of conventional crops ahead of harvest, such as wheat, oats and barley. In all, glyphosate is used in some fashion in the production of at least 70 food crops, including a range of fruits, nuts and vegetables.

There are various potential primary receptors at risk posed by the use of glyphosate – particularly landscape and agricultural workers who may be exposed to chronic exposure due to daily use and at all facilities in which it is utilized. Secondarily, consumers of the food it is applied to pose an exposure liability. In addition, the chemical may migrate outside of the application areas, onto adjacent properties, and into water bodies.

HETI: Exposure Assessment and Risk Management

Numerous public and private entities are concerned about human and financial exposures – including bodily injury, physical damage and pollution liability – caused by use of glyphosate-based products by a multitude of industries. This liability may be manifest in both real and perceived situations.

HETI can help mitigate the risks by performing site audits, phone surveys and, if necessary, sampling programs – to identify whether and how glyphosate is being used and potential impacts from its use and to provide the expertise to suggest available innocuous replacements for the chemical.


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To find out more about HETI’s environmental and industrial hygiene services, please contact us.


David A. Sadoff, PG, CPG
Senior Professional Geologist
Phone: 510.499.1753