By Leticia Muñoz
On the floors of public squares, where children often play, in clubs, on public roads, in vacant lots. These are the spaces where a scientific study found "glyphosate levels that, in some cases, are up to 20 times higher than those quantified in crop fields." Those public places that have the presence of the herbicide belong to the “fumigated towns” in the interior of the country, populations immersed in agro-productive areas. With that foundation supported by certainly alarming evidence, the Multidisciplinary Space for Socio-Environmental Interaction (Emisa) asked councilors and legislators for the "urgent preparation and implementation of municipal ordinances, provincial and national laws that prohibit the use of glyphosate in urban environments." .
The Emisa is an extension project generated within the National University of La Plata (UNLP). Damián Marino, along with Juan Manuel Santillán and Tomás Mac Loughlin, all from that house of higher studies, presented details of the investigation and warned of the impact on the population if immediate measures are not taken.
All three are part of the Center for Environmental Research (CIMA), which depends on the UNLP. From there, the study of several years on the presence of heavy metals and agrochemicals in the Paraná and Paraguay river basin was carried out. That was the reason that brought Dr. Marino to Resistencia, last Friday, to present the results at a conference organized by the "Ramón Carrillo" Popular Health Network, which took place in the Chamber of Deputies session premises.
Marino has a degree in Chemistry, a doctorate in Exact Sciences, an adjunct researcher at Conicet and an associate professor in the Environmental Sciences area at UNLP. Under his direction are Tomás Mac Loughlin, a graduate in Chemistry and Environmental Technology (with a doctorate in progress), and a Conicet fellow; and Juan Manuel Santillán, who is taking his last steps to finish a degree in Chemistry. All three are university professors.
Although the interview proposed by NORTE the day before the presentation in the Legislature would revolve around the conclusions of the investigation on the contamination of the Paraná, data and a disturbing context emerged almost at the end of the talk, when the academics exhibited an elaborate statement from the Emisa and released a few days before, that they tried to gain strength among the target actors: councilors and legislators from all over the country.
NORTH: In which towns did you find that glyphosate is used?
-Santillan: In all the fumigated towns of the country. In club sidewalks, around lamp posts, on railroad tracks.
-Marine: It is a consequence of the production model itself and it is an avoidable factor. In rural towns, people are exposed by the atmosphere, by dust, by machinery and also by the squares.
-It is difficult to assimilate that in a square someone could be using glyphosate.
-Marine: In those towns it is natural. They pass it on between neighbors. In the inland towns they sell it "loose" and people take it home. One problem is the dosage. They use a jet, they think it is little and add more. It is installed in urban areas. The message is that pesticides ceased to be a problem in the countryside, they crossed the gate and city limits, and got inside our houses. The important thing is that those who understand it drive the action.
-Santillan: There is no control of the amount that is applied. Nor is it applied with control of an agronomic recipe. There is a naturalization of the use of herbicides for garden care. And it happens that, since there is no natural runoff system, these products accumulate in a place like a square. It is amoral because they are places where there are boys. At the outset you should not have any kind of discussion. Not even the agronomist who is the most defender of the conventional agricultural system can in any way defend the levels of glyphosate in a square.
Agro-productive policy in focus
-We are frequently talking about fumigated towns, the threat of agrochemicals and their impact on human health. Do we have a state that is too permissive that leaves room for all this to happen? What is your vision?
-Marine: The situation is very complex. Different factors act. When an analysis of the history is made, the initial discourse was that pesticides could be used, that nothing happened. And they were used. The first thing that reacts is society, when strange patterns begin to be seen in the villages. Some alarms begin to go off and that social pressure installs the discussion. The press takes sides. But for all that, ten years had already passed and the agricultural model had been installed. Later, through different economic lobbies, the country entered an economic system dependent on a withholding program. So, what really needs to be discussed is Argentina's agricultural production policy, which involves economic, political, social, health and education issues. It is not something in which we can find a solution from today to tomorrow, but the start of State policies cannot be delayed, which regardless of which mayor, governor or president we have, sustain a couple of pillars over time so that Argentina change.
- Could the discussion of agro-productive policy include the prohibition of spraying with agrochemicals?
-Santillan: There is a fundamental question. Many of the chemical components that are used in the intensive agriculture model, appear in history as chemical weapons; they are technically and scientifically designed to exert toxic effects on some kind of species. When we give these discussions, many say that this is not a problem because the chemical compound is locked into the field of application. There is a discussion related to drift and runoff. But there is also a social component, because normally the fields are not far from the populations in the interior towns. And another component on which our team works: that people who work in the fields live there and their children attend rural schools. It is one thing to fumigate a field, another is to fumigate a house or a school where there are children. One could be an extremist and say that the model has to change, and then stop spraying overnight. On the sidelines, there is a concrete problem: it is illegal and immoral to spray people. International scientific associations, and one in particular, IARC, has shown that it increases the dangerous category of glyphosate, to name one.
There is yet another problem related to environmental complexity and that is that the applications are not only for glyphosate and atrazine. They are made of chemical compounds. The interactions that these compounds have with the environment, with health and with animal species are more complex than saying "if the dose increases, the toxicity increases." The study of this is one of the most missing legs in scientific terms. The complexity is enormous because there is, for example, illegal packaging and sale in localities of a compound such as matayuyos for application to gardening. And it is used in municipalities, state and private entities, in the patios and sidewalks of houses and gardens. Concentrations of agrochemicals have been found in rainwater in urban places where they are not supposed to be in common use.
-Marine: Policies should be oriented to discussing the productive model that Argentina plans for the next 50 years. And the emergence of this agronomic line such as agroecology is showing that vegetables and cereals can be produced without the need for chemical inputs, with management. That is why agronomists are trained, who are not pesticide cocktail cookers. We measure, we show that pesticides arrive and we do it to show that it is an environmental problem.
-Do you believe that Argentine society has a notion of what is happening, the drama of the affected populations, and heeds the warnings of scientists and their studies?
-Marine: It is little, but compared to what it was before it is a lot. Today people talk about it, it is discussed. It appears from time to time on TV, in a newspaper. Is not sufficient. There are different factors. But we are convinced that if the social organizations and the peoples continue to press, the issue will remain alive. In reality, the transformation will come from the society itself.
20 times more
In the Emisa statement, which has a page and was shared on social networks, the measurements that the working group has been carrying out for a long time on glyphosate and its environmental degradation product, aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) in urban soils of squares, clubs, sidewalks and vacant lots of different towns of the interior. “The glyphosate levels found are, in some cases, up to 20 times higher than those quantified in farm fields. AMPA levels are also high, which would show that the use of the herbicide is sustained over time and that it does not constitute an eventual practice ”, he warns.
They recall from the Emisa that glyphosate was categorized as probably carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, in its acronym in English). And they also highlight that, in view of the high and frequent levels of glyphosate measured in urban soils and the different sources of environmental exposure by populations, ordinances and laws that prohibit its use in urban environments, that promote community work and the management of vegetation with mechanical tools or environmentally friendly practices that prohibit and fine the fractional sale of glyphosate formulations for domestic use.