How safe are we?

roundup

Image source: healthimpactnews.com

In Unit 11 this week we looked at the role of risk assessment in environmental decision making.  Coming from a mining background the use of risk assessment in decision making is a standard practice for all kinds of fields (business, people’s safety, the environment etc.).  The methodology is pretty much always the same as the Harding et al (2009) risk management cycle.  You identify all the risks you can think of, analyse and evaluate them, determine if the risks can be controlled or ameliorated and then make a decision on how to move forward.

If all the risks are not identified the process is essentially voided.  If the analysis, evaluation or the level of risk treatment is not thorough enough you may get the conclusion that a product or process is safe and then several years or decades later, bird’s eggs have thin shells or Inuit’s are getting cancer.

On slide two the question was asked “What are the impacts of pesticides in human health and the environment?”  This is an incredibly important question to me as it directly relates to my role in mine rehabilitation. Herbicides and pesticides are used on an almost daily basis to control weeds and feral animals, and it has been my role to ensure that this is done in a manner which is safe for the people conducting the tasks and the environment.

In 2015 there was an announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that Glyphosate (i.e. Roundup) had been found to be a probable carcinogen.  Up until then it had been viewed as an incredibly safe product to use, it does after all have an LD-50 of over 10,000 mg/kg for mice, it has a half-life in the environment of 1-174 days depending on soil types and it doesn’t translocate very well due to its binding nature with soils.

In May this year it was determined by WHO that it is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk.  Glyphosate has been on the market now for over 40 years and is one of the most commonly used herbicides on the planet.  You would expect that if it was detrimental in any way, then it would have showed by now.  On the other hand DDT started to be used heavily in the early 1940s and its impacts on the environment were not obvious for twenty years or so.

On Slide 9 the point was made that “ideology, money, and/or political power can unduly influence science”.  It worries me that pressure from special interest groups may have an influence on declaring products as safe.  In addition the cost of analyzing potential impacts of pesticides means that there could be any number of products out there which may have potential impacts which were not identified in step one of the risk analysis process.

 

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