The widely used herbicide glyphosate is likely to adversely affect 93% of threatened and endangered species, the US Environmental Protection Agency concludes in a draft biological evaluation released Nov. 25. The analysis comes just days after the agency reported that another widely used herbicide, atrazine, is likely detrimental to more than half of such species.
The EPA is required to evaluate the risks of pesticides to endangered species as part of the registration review process that typically occurs every 15 years for pesticides. In January, the agency completed most of the steps in the reregistration process for glyphosate and declared in an interim decision that it can stay on the US market. At the time, the agency said that it would evaluate the risks to endangered species and screen glyphosate for endocrine activity before it completes the registration review process.
Glyphosate has little acute toxicity to animals. However, some formulations, such as those that contain polyethoxylated amine surfactants, are more toxic than the active ingredient alone, the EPA says in the draft biological evaluation. Chronic exposure to glyphosate, regardless if formulated or not, is associated with growth and reproductive effects in terrestrial and aquatic animals, and adverse effects on plant growth, the agency says.
Environmental groups are welcoming the assessment after waiting years for it. A series of lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity led to an agreement with the EPA in 2016 to begin the process of evaluating the impacts of glyphosate and atrazine on endangered species. Without that agreement, the EPA probably would not have conducted the analysis. The agency has repeatedly failed to consider risks to endangered species when it registers and reregisters pesticides.
“The hideous impacts of glyphosate on the nation’s most endangered species are impossible to ignore now,” Lori Ann Burd, environmental health program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, says in a statement. “Glyphosate use is so widespread that even the EPA’s notoriously industry-friendly pesticide office had to conclude that there are hardly any endangered species that can manage to evade its toxic impacts.”
The draft biological evaluation is the first step in the process of evaluating the impacts of glyphosate on endangered species. The EPA is accepting comments on the draft evaluation for 60 days. If the final evaluation finds that glyphosate is likely to adversely impact any endangered species, the EPA would then consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine the extent of the impact and to develop a plan to protect the affected species.