Studies show that one in four people in Ireland have low exposure to the herbicide glyphosate.
Scientists at the University of Galway investigated background exposure to herbicides in the first of its kind study in Ireland.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is considering whether to renew approval for the use of glyphosate in the EU after safety concerns were raised, including a possible link to cancer.
Running from 2019 to 2020, the Image research project tested urine samples collected from farm and non-farm families for the presence of glyphosate and the main human metabolite AMPA.
The project was led by Exposure Science researchers at the University of Galway in collaboration with the Institute for Prevention and Occupational Medicine in Bochum, Germany, and the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt-UBA).
Dr Alison Connolly, who led the research at the University of Galway, said: “This study has yielded important results in people’s exposure to a chemical of public concern and is particularly timely with the European Commission currently re-evaluating glyphosate.
“While measurable levels are low, it is crucial to understand how chemical exposures can occur among different groups, particularly in vulnerable individuals such as children.
“This information is essential to conduct robust regulatory risk assessments, manage exposure levels, and fully understand their impact on human health.
“This study also demonstrated how useful human biomonitoring is for assessing chemical exposures.”
Dr Marie Coggins, senior lecturer in exposure science at the University of Galway, said: “The glyphosate exposure data published in the image study is relevant to the European Commission’s assessment of the replacement rating for this controversial pesticide.”
He said the reported exposure data is “low” compared to the current acceptable safe daily intake set by the European Food Safety Authority.
A total of 68 families participated in the study, 14 of whom lived on farms and one of these family members sprayed glyphosate-based pesticides.
The study analyzed a detailed diet and lifestyle questionnaire and tests from 226 people.
Glyphosate was detectable in 26% of the samples and AMPA in 59%.
There was no statistical difference between the exposures of farm-dwelling and non-farming families, although higher concentrations were detected among some farm-dwelling fathers, possibly because they had sprayed glyphosate-based pesticide products the day before sampling.
The researchers said that the higher detection frequency for AMPA may be due to dietary exposure, namely residues on food and water.