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Weed-killing chemical found in majority of U.S. urine samples

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A widely used but controversial herbicide linked to cancer is showing up in people, with a government study finding glyphosate in more than 80% of urine samples from U.S. kids and adults. 

Part of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention program, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found glyphosate in 1,885 of 2,310 urine samples representative of the population at large. Nearly a third of the samples came from kids, ranging in age from six to 18. 

"Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the country, yet until now we had very little data on exposure," Alexis Temkin, a toxicologist at the Environmental Working Group, said Monday in a statement. "Children in the U.S. are regularly exposed to this cancer-causing weedkiller through the food they eat virtually every day."

The weed-killing chemical is the active ingredient in the widely used Roundup brand, which was inherited by German pharmaceutical company Bayer when it purchased American agrochemical giant Monsanto in 2018. 

The Supreme Court last month rejected a bid by Bayer to shut down thousands of lawsuits claiming the weedkiller causes cancer. The high court's justices let stand a $25 million judgement on behalf of a California man who claims he developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma from decades of using Roundup on his property. 

The Environmental Protection Agency in 2020 found that glyphosate does not pose a serious health risk and is "not likely" to cause cancer in humans, but a federal appeals court last month ordered the EPA to reexamine its findings. 

Still, Bayer has won four consecutive trials in state court against people claiming they got cancer from using Roundup, with a recent verdict favoring the company coming in Oregon. 

The International Agency for Research on Cancer – part of the World Health Organization — classifies glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans." 

Bayer maintains the product is safe. A spokesperson for the company said the CDC study further confirms that human exposure to glyphosate is low.

"CDC's data provide further confirmation that human exposures to glyphosate are well below levels that regulatory agencies established to protect human health," Darren Wallis said in an emailed statement. "CDC's highest reported value (8.13 ng glyphosate/ml of urine) corresponds to exposures that are less than 0.14% of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s safety threshold."

Bayer said that it would replace glyphosate in Roundup for residential use beginning in 2023. Products containing glyphosate will still be available for professional and farm use.

Traces of glyphosate has been found in a variety of food, including baby formula, as well as in organic beer and wine and in hummus and chickpeas.

This story has been updated.

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