Renewable Farming

Heavy metals chelated by glyphosate: A link to kidney disease?

A new study of the epidemic of chronic kidney disease among farmers in Sri Lanka offers another suspected cause: Ten farmers with the disease tested positive for unusually high levels of glyphosate and heavy metals in their urine.

This study, coupled with previous medical evidence, have led to a renewed government ban on glyphosate in Sri Lanka. 

Sri Lanka’s northern areas are most heavily affected by the disease

You can download a PDF of the complete study at this link.

The website also has an open-access report to the study at this link.

This island nation of about 20 million people, formerly known as Ceylon, has a highly literate, 85% rural population. In the mid-1990s, medical statistics began showing a rising rate of chronic kidney disease in northern farming localities. Officials began doing field studies of the most affected areas. 

Early suspicions of a cause pointed to a combination of heavy metals and glyphosate, which is a highly effective chelator of metals. The government imposed an initial ban on glyphosate in March 2014, but the Sri Lanka Department of Agriculture reversed that decision after objections by glyphosate manufacturers.

Further studies followed, and in June 2015, one of the first acts of Sri Lanka’s newly elected presidents was to impose a new ban on glyphosate by decree. This included barring release of substantial cargoes of glyphosate already landed ahead of the ban.

Much remains unknown about the link between kidney disease, heavy metals and glyphosate. Chronic kidney disease affects some 400,000 of Sri Lanka’s people, mostly farmers, leading to 20,000 fatalities so far. 

Glyphosate is one of the most powerful chelating agents known. Its ability to kill weeds depends on its ability to chelate, or bond to, trace elements such as manganese and zinc which are essential for a weed’s immune system. Without the ability to fight off pathogens, weeds die.

If the ban is effective, and rates of chronic kidney disease in Sri Lanka’s heavily impacted northern region decline over the next few years, that data will offer further clues which should prove useful for human health in agriculture.

Such data would be valuable for Americans.  The rate of U.S. deaths related to kidney failure has been rising in close orrelation with the increase of glyphosate use since the early 1990s. (See accompanying chart, prepared by Dr. Nancy Swanson.) But of course, correlation does not mean causation.

For a much more comprehensive look at U.S. chronic diseases correlated with glyphosate, you can download this study which was posted earlier on our website.

U.S deaths by kidney failure, vs. glyphosate use