One in four Irish people have low-level exposure to the weed killer glyphosate, research has revealed.
Scientists at the University of Galway investigated background exposure levels to the herbicide in the first study of its kind in Ireland.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is assessing whether approval for the use of glyphosate in the EU should be renewed after safety concerns were raised, including a possible link to cancer.
The Image research project, which ran from 2019 to 2020, tested urine samples collected from farm and non-farm households for the presence of glyphosate and its main human metabolite, AMPA.
The project was led by Open Science researchers at the University of Galway in collaboration with the Institute for Prevention and Occupational Medicine in Bochum, Germany and the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt-UBA).
Dr Alison Connolly, who carried out the research while at the University of Galway, said: “This study has produced important findings on human exposure to a chemical of public concern and is particularly timely as the European Commission is currently reassessing glyphosate .
“Although the quantifiable levels were low, it is essential to understand how chemical exposure can occur among different groups, especially vulnerable people such as children.
“This information is essential to perform robust regulatory risk assessments, to manage exposure levels, and to fully understand their effect on human health.
“This study also demonstrated how beneficial human biomonitoring is for assessing chemical exposure.”
Dr Marie Coggins, senior lecturer in exposure science at the University of Galway, said: “The glyphosate exposure data published in the Image study is relevant as the European Commission evaluates its renewed assessment for this controversial pesticide.”
She said the reported exposure data were “low” compared to the safe and acceptable daily intake value set by the European Food Safety Authority.
A total of 68 families participated in the study, 14 of which lived on farms, and one of those family members sprayed glyphosate-based pesticides.
The study analyzed tests from 226 people with a detailed nutrition and lifestyle questionnaire.
Glyphosate was detectable in 26% of the samples and AMPA was detectable in 59% of the samples.
There was no statistical difference between farm and non-farm family exposure, although higher concentrations were detected among some fathers living on farms, probably because they sprayed glyphosate-based pesticide products the day before sampling.
Researchers said that a higher detection frequency for AMPA could be due to dietary exposure, ie from residues on foods and water.