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Research finds herbicide exposure not as widespread as feared

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One in 12 Australians have low levels of the world’s most common herbicide chemical in their system, new research indicates.

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The Australian-first study found eight per cent of urine samples from more than 1800 Australians contained the weed killer glyphosate, yet the researchers say people shouldn’t be concerned by the levels.

“The levels that were detected were quite low and the prevalence in the general population is also quite low in Australia,” Dr Sarit Kaserzon from the University of Queensland told AAP.

The scientists had been concerned that people would be exposed to the chemical due to food and drinking water sprayed by the herbicide.

Kaserzon said there was currently limited evidence around how glyphosate affected human health, but it was still “great news” that the exposure was not as high as anticipated.

It was a different outcome for farmers using the herbicide.

The researchers teamed up with New Zealand’s Massey University to compare the levels with 27 farmers who work with glyphosate in that country.

They found all but one of the farmers had high levels of glyphosate in their system immediately after spraying the herbicide.

“This indicates a strong link with occupational exposure for frequent users,” Kaserzon said.

Lead author Garth Campbell from UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences said the findings served as a warning to those using the herbicide for work.

“We recommend if you’re occupationally exposed to be using appropriate PPE, so gloves, goggles, masks and everything like that,” Campbell said.

“There are many ways to reduce exposure to the chemicals we use in the home and garden every day.”

The scientists found levels in most of the New Zealand farmers were higher than reported levels in South America, Europe and even in North America.

A recent report by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States found more than 80 per cent of urine samples drawn from 2310 American children and adults had traces of glyphosate.

The research was published in July in the internationally recognised journal, Science of the Total Environment.

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