From The Editor | October 12, 2017

Rounding Up Glyphosate's Threat To Drinking Water

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga, Associate Editor, Water Online

Rounding Up Glyphosate’s Threat To Drinking Water

As we exit lawn care season, many drinking water systems around the country are still grappling with its aftereffects.

One of the most popular weed killers on the market, Roundup, is used regularly on yards. Unbeknownst to many, Roundup is the trade name of the herbicide glyphosate, brought to market by Monsanto in 1974. Since then, it has been finding its way from lawns into water supplies, bringing with it potentially dangerous contamination.

Though it has initially been thought to be relatively safe, there may be recent reason for concern.

“In the past, research on the chemical had shown a low mammalian toxicity, leading to widespread usage of the compounds,” per the U.S. EPA. “Recently, however, some researchers have identified secondary effects in animals such as reproductive dysfunction.”

In its table of National Primary Drinking Water Contaminants, the agency lists a maximum contaminant level of 0.7 mg/L for glyphosate and sites kidney problems as another potential hazard it brings to consumers.

So, the herbicide is something for drinking water utilities to be aware of. But staying on top of it may be difficult, not least because of how pervasive it is.

“According to the National Pesticide Information Center, over 750 products containing glyphosate are being sold in the U.S.,” said J.L. Kindler, president of OriginClear Technologies, which is testing an advanced oxidation treatment solution on the contaminant. “It’s estimated that glyphosate is found in up to 70 percent of all U.S. drinking water… Glyphosate has also been frequently found in human urine, indicating its regular presence in the human body.”

For its part, the EPA recommends controlling glyphosate in drinking water through oxidation or granular activated carbon adsorption. OriginClear, however, believes its advanced process is an improvement upon what most treatment operations are doing to tackle glyphosate.

“When filters and chemicals don’t get all the toxins out, electricity can trigger a reaction to turn them into harmless molecules,” Kindler said. “This is where OriginClear’s next generation advanced oxidation is better than the legacy processes that inject reagents. It’s a more simple and effective way to treat water for many microtoxins at city treatment plants, at irrigation districts, in bottling water plants, and, eventually, in the home.”

The advanced oxidation process generates reactive oxygen species like ozone, hydrogen peroxide, and hydroxyls, all of which degrade contaminants like glyphosate. OriginClear sees this as a better solution than chlorine or, as stated above, the injection of reagents.

“Advanced oxidation is a more thorough process than conventional methods such as filters or membranes, which are contaminant-selective and prone to failure,” said Kindler. “Chlorine only has limited efficiency on advanced contaminants and it generates its own toxic material that must be processed. Advanced oxidation also has a much broader application range than chlorine disinfection, as it eliminates a much wider scope of contaminants.”

Regardless of the treatment technology they select, drinking water operations are becoming increasingly aware of the presence of glyphosate and the threat it poses to consumers. As efforts to control the contaminant continue, technology providers will remain a step ahead.

“We [as a society] are becoming more aware of glyphosate’s presence in our water, and as such, are pursuing greater depths of research into the contaminant’s effects on the human body,” Kindler said. “We foresee this trend continuing and encourage the research on glyphosate to continue. In the meantime, while researchers conduct studies to understand the exact dangers of glyphosate’s presence in our water, OriginClear is focused on ending its presence in our water once and for all.”

Image credit: "EU to propose 10-year license renewal for weed killer glyphosate," Eco Daily, 2017, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/