Many ingredients in common weedkillers and pesticides are not subject to safety tests and could cause chronic disease

According to an expert review, new regulations are required to protect people and the environment from chemical ingredients known as ‘adjuvants’ in common weedkillers and pesticides.

Adjuvants are added to pesticide formulations to enhance the active ingredient. They include dyes, anti-foaming agents and surfactants.

Pesticide safety assessments fall short

Surprisingly, adjuvants are not subject to safety assessments and regulatory tests for pesticide safety are currently only done on the active ingredient.

This means the full toxicity of a pesticide formulation – including those used in both agriculture and domestic gardens – is not shown.

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Pesticides could cause chronic disease

“Exposure to environmental levels of some of these adjuvant mixtures can affect non-target organisms – and even can cause chronic human disease,” says Dr Robin Mesnage from King’s College London, who co-wrote the review with Dr Michael Antoniou.

“Despite this, adjuvants are not currently subject to an acceptable daily intake and are not included in the health risk assessment of dietary exposures to pesticide residues.”

Related: Scary: Pesticides accumulate in the home 

Are the weeds worth dying for?

The researchers focused on glyphosate-based herbicides, the most-used pesticide worldwide.

They point out that this weedkiller has so many different adjuvant formulations that a safety test of one weedkiller does not test for the safety of another.

“Studies comparing the toxicity of commercial weedkiller formulations to that of glyphosate alone have shown that several formulations are up to 1 000 times more toxic than glyphosate on human cells. We believe that the adjuvants are responsible for this additional toxic effect,” says Dr Mesnage.

Killing our bees

The authors also highlight neonicotinoid insecticides – strongly suspected to be involved in the collapsing of bee colonies – as another example of adjuvant toxicity affecting non-target organisms.

An adjuvant used in these insecticides to increase the penetration of the active ingredient has been shown to cause varying toxic effects in bees. On top of this, residues of the toxin have also been found in honey, pollen and beeswax produced by contaminated bees.

Related: How to make a garden bee-friendly

The authors hope their review will stimulate discussion on the toxicity of commonly used pesticides and encourage more thorough regulations.

Their findings have already had a considerable impact. The European Food Safety Authority is now reassessing the validity of pesticide risk assessment in the EU.

What can we do?

Our best bet is to opt for organic, natural products in our homes and gardens.

And when it comes to weeds, nothing works as well as pulling them out by hand – just think of it as extra exercise!

Source: Frontiers via

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.