EPA to study effects of Roundup on 1,500 endangered species

300 million pounds of glyphosate are used in the U.S. each year, but its impacts are largely unknown.

For more than a decade, milkweed, that tall green plant with purple or orange flowers, has been rapidly declining in Midwestern states. Little research has been done on the abundance of milkweed in Western states, though many scientists suspect it may be struggling as well. That’s because Western monarch butterflies, which depend on milkweed for food and habitat, have declined by nearly 90 percent in the past two decades. Both of these troubling trends — the decline of milkweed in the Midwest and of monarch butterflies — have coincided with a rise in agricultural use of the herbicide glyphosate.

While the impact glyphosate has on milkweed and monarchs is well-known, the damage it does to other plants and animals is largely a mystery. Now, the EPA has announced it will spend the next five years studying the effects of glyphosate (more commonly referred to by its trade name, Roundup), atrazine, and two other commonly used pesticides on 1,500 endangered species.

Although Roundup has been around since the 1970s, its effects haven’t been broadly studied since 1993, when only 10 million pounds were used annually. Today, more than 300 million pounds are applied to U.S. fields each year.

This is the crux of the problem. Unlike atrazine, which is less prevalent but so toxic it can lead to sex changes in some amphibians, glyphosate has a volume problem, says Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director for the Center for Biological Diversity. The sheer prevalence of Roundup makes its plant-killing effects felt on a massive scale.

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