Scientists and ecologists are increasingly understanding the delicate ecological balance between soil, crops, trees, air, water, and living beings of all species. Pesticides directly interrupt this critical balance. About one billion pounds of conventional pesticides are used each year in the United States to control weeds, insects, and other pests. Over five billion pounds are used worldwide annually.

The impact of the modern synthetic chemical obsession is readily observed in our environment in everything from pollinator dieoff to barren soil; sealife death to plummeting human fertility. Forestry has changed a great deal in the last eighty years. Our once pristine national parks are littered with pesticides. 

Glyphosate contamination is present in all of our ecological systems. Glyphosate and its metabolite AMPA often persist for years in the environment, and can be highly mobile in water and the air. The effects are far-reaching. 

Glyphosate and Soil

Soil is exposed to glyphosate primarily before the planting of traditional agricultural crops, after planting of glyphosate-resistant crops, and as a desiccator to facilitate harvesting of crops. Glyphosate is also widely used between trees in groves and in vineyards.

When glyphosate decays, it forms AMPA, the main metabolite. AMPA is chemically similar to glyphosate and has similar properties of environmental behavior and toxicity. Glyphosate and AMPA are adsorbed into soil, meaning they attach to the surfaces of soil particles. In clay soil, the period required for 90 percent dissipation of glyphosate and AMPA from soil is estimated to be more than 1000 days. 

Earthworms are essential contributors to healthy soil, acting as “ecosystem engineers”. They enhance water filtration and soil root penetration through burrowing, and enhance the nutrient availability in the soil. Unfortunately, the presence of glyphosate and AMPA in the soil negatively impacts the activity and reproduction of these vital soil dwellers.  

As reported by the Rodale Institute: “Healthy soil is teeming with bacteria, fungi, algae, protazoa, worms, and other creatures. Soil bacteria produce natural antibiotics that help plants resist disease. Fungi assist plants in absorbing water and nutrients. Together, these bacteria and fungi are known as “organic matter”. The more organic matter in a sample of soil, the healthier the soil is.” 

Glyphosate disrupts this rich collection of organic matter in healthy, productive soil. It acts as an antibiotic on key beneficial soil bacteria. It also can inhibit the growth of some fungal species, yet stimulate others, including plant pathogens. 

Over time, as the soil quality deteriorates due to glyphosate, soil becomes hard, compact, and less able to absorb water. In my experience, it’s hard to even get a shovel into the glyphosate-damaged soil. The floods that have plagued the US heartland in recent years are in large part due to the loss of the ability of soil to absorb water. 

Glyphosate and Water

The US Geological Survey (USGS) analyzed 3732 water and sediment samples collected between 2001 and 2010 from 28 states in the US and Washington DC. Water sources tested included streams, groundwater, ditches, drains, large rivers, soil water, lakes, ponds, wetlands, precipitation, soil and sediment, and wastewater treatment plants. They found glyphosate in 39.4% of samples and its metabolite AMPA in 55% of samples. Rain tested positive for glyphosate in 70% of samples.

While this seminal study offers key data on the prevalence of glyphosate in our waterways, it was published in 2014. Quantities of glyphosate contamination would expectedly be higher nearly a decade later. 

As reported by the Sierra Club, glyphosate contaminates waterways when rainfall transports it to ditches, streams, rivers, lakes, and estuaries. Agricultural practices and landscape maintenance that use glyphosate-based herbicides can also contaminate runoff and compromise the health of watersheds. Pesticides can also be washed down through soil and rock layers into underground water sources, such as aquifers. 

Unbelievably, it is a common practice to spray glyphosate directly into the water to try to control for undesirable aqueous plants. This contamination can cause notorious algal red tides, which led Florida to ban the use of Roundup on aqueous plants. Glyphosate is also used to control plant species in the Galapagos Islands, among our planet’s most treasured sealife. 

Glyphosate and Trees

In some cases, glyphosate is sprayed from planes or helicopters to wipe out acreages of forest. Once all growing plants and trees die, the logging industry returns to replant just a handful of tree species most valuable for logging. The result is a pine and spruce monoculture, and wide-reaching damage from glyphosate throughout the ecosystem. In Ontario, there are plummeting numbers of wildlife including beaver, porcupine, sounds, birds and bees. 

Glyphosate is widely used in US National Parks and Forests to purportedly keep rights-of-way free of weeds and to keep noxious weeds controlled. The spray impacts many components of the delicate ecosystems, which the government originally sought to preserve. 

Often, spraying glyphosate on vegetation near non-target plants will lead to unintended tree disease or death through aerial drift, soil contamination, or water runoff. Exposure to glyphosate predisposes plants and trees to disease.

I once reached out to the leadership of the National Park Service, and heard just how vital glyphosate is to maintaining the park vegetation and managing invasive weed species. I challenge that conclusion. If left untouched, the animals, insects, soil, vegetation and waterways would rebalance the damaged ecosystem, and ultimately not need any further chemical “management”.


Further Reading