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The “Ask A Toxicologist” program is part of a growing effort by the College to improve public awareness and education regarding the toxicity of medication interactions, occupational chemicals, new drugs of abuse, venoms and plant toxins. The goal of the program is to provide rational, evidence-based answers to common medical toxicology questions – clearly and concisely. Members of the public are encouraged to submit questions through for review by a panel of experts in human poisoning, who will post a consensus opinion written by one expert in the field. There is no charge for this service.
Questions relating to an individual’s health concerns cannot be answered, as the program cannot create or replace a doctor-patient relationship. Additionally, we are unable to provide counsel, advice or interpretation for any legal issue. Questions and answers should be of a general nature, and of interest to a wide population. Not all questions will be able to be addressed.
Ask A Toxicologist
What are the potential health effects of working with the herbicide glyphosate, contained in products such as Roundup®?
posted on 4:31 PM, July 22, 2014
Roundup® is the trade name for one of many products that contain a chemical called glyphosate. Glyphosate is an herbicide, which means that it is used to kill plants, typically weeds. Glyphosate works by interfering with a plant enzyme that makes proteins necessary for a plant’s survival. When this enzyme is blocked, the plant cannot grow and dies. Humans do not have this enzyme and are immune to this effect of glyphosate.
When someone has intentionally ingested glyphosate in an attempt to hurt themselves, or when they have been exposed to large amounts of highly concentrated glyphosate, toxicity has been described. The toxicity usually results from the other components of the herbicide product, mainly the chemicals used to stabilize the glyphosate and allow it to be applied onto fields and crops. Symptoms that may occur after ingestion include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In cases of severe toxicity, as might occur after intentionally drinking concentrated glyphosate, low blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, kidney, liver, and lung injury, and even death can occur.
If people use a glyphosate-containing product at home and are exposed to small amounts on their skin, eyes, or mouth, they should immediately rinse the area with water. There may be a minor reaction that looks like irritation with some redness. Products that are sold for home use contain lower concentrations of glyphosate that are generally believed to be safe. Additionally, there do not seem to be any long-term health effects from this chemical. In animals exposed to large quantities of glyphosate there was not an increased risk for cancer.
Overall glyphosate used at home is generally safe. Severe toxicity results from intentional ingestions of the concentrated formulation, not from casual exposures. In cases of small exposures to the skin, the eyes, or the mouth, the area should be washed thoroughly.