M A M A    C O C A

Aerial Fumigation of Illicit Crops Is Most Certainly Dangerous —Approaching the Issue—

Elsa Nivia - Rapalmira[*]


The aerial application of wide-spectrum herbicides —in an attempt to eradicate illicit crops— causes severe and unnecessary health problems for people and animals. It pollutes the soil, water, air and food and destroys staple farm crops, livestock and fish which are at the basis of indigenous and peasant communities' subsistence. It furthermore endangers animal and plant biodiversity.

The environmental and health hazards caused by aerial fumigation —which have for the past quarter of a century proven to be a total failure towards controlling narcotics trafficking— compound the negative effects of the widespread use of pesticides for common agricultural purposes. Namely, the legal use given to these products as of the agricultural-production model known as the "Green Revolution," which has been fostered by states throughout the past century on the basis of one-crop farming and are dependent on an intensive use of toxic agrochemicals licensed for sale. Consequently, it is inconsistent for the government to justify illicit-crop "eradication" on the basis of the pollution generated by the use of pesticides since these same pesticides are used on licit crops all over the country and will, unfortunately, continue being used in an irrational manner as long as governments do not implement efficient policies to control the agrotoxin market and begin to foster organic, ecological production models.

When illicit crops are sprayed from the air with wide-spectrum herbicides, simultaneously, neighboring and intercalated staple crops are being fumigated as well as water sources, cattle, pets, schools, laborers, men, women, the elderly, children, wild animal and plant life from bordering jungle areas. No pilot, no matter how well-trained he is, can avoid indiscriminate fumigation when spraying with pesticides from a plane over areas which are inhabited by living beings.

This study focuses primarily on the potential health hazards —through a comparison of doses and acute toxicity problems— resulting from aerial fumigation with Roundup used in the forced eradication of illicit crops. After having carried out comparative analyses regarding

a) Results of studies on the acute toxicity generated by Roundup in animals;

b) Acute effects known to be caused by Roundup in humans, and;

c) The doses of Roundup Ultra and surfactants which are currently being applied.

we can sustain that there is no scientific precedent for the herbicidal aerial fumigation of illicit crops which is being carried out in Colombia.

This initial approach has demonstrated that aerial fumigations DO constitute a severe health hazard for humans and animals. It is therefore urgent that this degrading and failed policy be suspended immediately and that socially-concerted sustainable solutions —that lead to the gradual but true reduction of planting of crops considered illicit— be implemented.

        General Characteristics of Roundup (glyphosate)

Glyphosate is a systemic herbicide which operates in post-emergency, it is nonselective, of wide-spectrum, and used to kill unwanted annual and perennial weeds and yearly grassy and broadleaf trees.  Technical glyphosate is an acid but it is commonly used in the form of salts of which the most common is isopropylamine (IPA) of N-(fosfonometil) glycine, or glyphosate's isopropylamine salt. It is highly soluble in water and practically insoluble in organic solvents.

Its most commonly-known trademark name is the Monsanto Roundup, which has various formulations, commonly characterized by the content of 480 g/L of glyphosate IPA salt and the surfactant POEA (polyethoxylated tallow amine). The differences could lie in the varying concentration of these ingredientes and, in the case of the POEA —of the family of the polyethoxilated syntethized alkylamines from animal derived fatty acids. In some cases, it may contain additional surfactants. (Dinham, 1999; EPA, 1999; Green Peace, 1997; Meister, 2000; Williams et. al., 2000)

In Colombia, apart from being used as an herbicide for agricultural purposes, it is also used as a dessicator for grains and, aerially, to ripen sugar cane as well as in the forced eradication of crops qualified as illicit. Roundup[2] used commonly in agriculture contains 41% of glyphosate IPA salt while Roundup Ultra —used for eradicating illicit crops— contains 43,9% of the active ingredient.

It has been reported that the surfactant POEA contained in the formulation causes gastrointestinal disorders, damages the central nervous system, generates respiratory problems and destroys human red blood cells. POEA is contaminated by 1,4 dioxane, which has caused cancer in animals and liver and kidney harm in humans.

The main metabolite in glyphosate degradation in soil environment is aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), which is also toxic.

Glyphosate can contain traces of N-nitrous glyphosate or this compound can be formed in the atmosphere when combining with nitrate (found in human saliva or in fertilizers.) Most N-nitrous are carcinogenic and there are no secure levels of exposure to carcinogenics. Formaldehyde, another known carcinogenic, is also a product of descomposing glyphosate (glyphosate ? AMPA ? Methylamine ? Formaldehyde). (Cox, 1995; Dinham, 1999; Williams et. al., 2000)

Minimal amounts of this herbicide can harm crops. One of Monsanto's first technical Newletters (MON-057-1-71) affirmed that "aerial application should be avoided where there is danger of the chemical coming into contact with desireable species deseables". Currently, the Monsanto label for Colombia states that "[R]isks of hazards for neighboring crops are considerably reduced when application is carried out under calm winds and when aimed at weeds using a protective shield to keep aspersion drops from falling on the green areas of desirable plants.”

According to the Roundup label, the herbicide that falls to the ground is immediately inactivated through a chemical reaction which occurs with clay soils, without leaving residues which might affect later plantings nor penetrate the roots of already-rooted crops. However, several researchers sustain that glyphosate can be easily desorbed in certain types of soil, in other words, that in some types of soils, it can break loose from the particles becoming quite mobile in the soil. In one type of soil, 80% of the added glyphosate desorbed or came loose within a two-hour lapse. (Cox,1995)

The losses due to volatilization or photodecomposition are considered insignificant, but it can be decomposed by micro-organisms, showing average life span in soils (lapse required for half of the compound to disappear from the environment) ranging from approximately 60 days (2 months), according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), up to 1 or 3 years, according to studies carried out in Canada and Sweden. The EPA adds that, in field studies, residues are found a year later. (Dinham, 1998; Cox 1995) According to complaints lodged with the Defensoría del Pueblo en Colombia (Ombudsman), food crops are totally destroyed by aerial fumigation with Roundup, and latter plantings are also affected.

Glyphosate is highly soluble in water with a solubility of 12 grams/liter at 25ºC. Due to its ionic state in water it is not expected to volatilize in water nor soils. Its persistence in waters is shorter than in soils due to its ability to adsorb to suspended particles such as organic and mineral material, sediments and probably due to microbial decomposition. In Canada it's been found to persist from 12 to 60 days in pond waters, but it lasts much longer in the sediments at the bottom. Average life span in sediments was 120 days, according to a study in Missouri, USA. Persistence was over a year in sediments in Michigan and in Oregon.

Glyphosate has been found to be contaminating surface and underground waters. For example, it contaminated through run-off two ponds in farms in Canada, one from agricultural treatment and the other from a spill; it polluted surface waters in Holland; and seven ponds in the USA (one in Texas and six in Virginia) were found to be polluted with glyphosate. In the United Kingdom, the Welsh Water Company has detected levels of glyphosate since 1993, above the permissible levels allowed by the European Union. The EPA has found that, exposure to glyphosate residues in water for human consumption above the maximal 0.7 mg/L authorized limit, can cause accelerated breathing and pulmonary congestion, kidney damage and hazards to human reproduction. (Dinham, 1999)

Mode of action and some effects on plants

Glyphosate's herbicide action is due to inhibition of biosynthesis of the aromatic amino acids (phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan), used in the synthesis of proteins that are essential to plant growth and survival. Glyphosate inhibits the enzyme enolpiruvilchiquimato-phosphate synthase (EPSPS), important to the synthesis of aromatic amino acids; it can also inhibit or repress the action of another two enzymes involved in other steps of amino acid synthesis, that of chloromate mutase and prephrenate hydrathase. All of these enzymes make up the chychemical acid pathways, present in superior plants and microorganisms but not in animals.

Glyphosate can also affect other enzymes which are not related to chychemical-acid pathways. In sugar cane it reduces the activity of one of the enzymes involved in sugar metabolism, invertase acid. This reduction seems to be measured by auxins, plant hormones.

Glyphosate, since it is a wide-spectrum herbicide, has toxic effects on most plant species, and can jeopardize endangered species if applied in the areas they inhabit. According to EPA information, reported by PAN Asia Pacific, over 74 endangered species in the united States might be endangered because of the use of glyphosate. The same source ads that sub lethal doses of glyphosate can increase the susceptibility of some plants (i.e. apple, barley, soya, tomatos) to disease caused by fungus.

Glyphosate can inhibit beneficial fungi that help plants to absorb nutrients and water. For example, in one study it inhibited the formation treble nitrogen-fixing nodules 120 days' after treatment. In sub lethal doses it can interfere with some metabolic processes in plants: en kidney beans it can inhibit absorption of potassium and sodium and in asparagus and linseed it can diminish the production of lignin.

According to studies reported by Williams et. al. (2000), Roundup can produce chromosomal aberrations in onion the end cells, suggesting that this chromosomal effect might be due to the surfactant. Glyphosate's effect on the end of hyacinth roots, concluding that the inhibiting effect —depending on the doses— on the formation of mitotic figures with prolonged exposure, was due to an effect on the spindle apparatus, leading thus to chromosomal disorganization in the anaphase.

Acute Toxicity and Poisoning Symptoms of Roundup

Roundup ranks among the top pesticides that cause human poisoning in several countries. Most of these have involved dermal and ocular irritation in workers aftar having been exposed during mixture, transportation or application. Nausea, dizziness and vomiting have also been reported after exposure, as well as breathing problems, accelerated heartbeat, increased blood pressure and allergies.

In cases of poisoning studied by Japanese doctors, most of them due to accidental or voluntary ingestion of Roundup, but also due to occupational exposure, acute poisoning symptoms were reported as including gastrointestinal pain, massive loss of gastrointestinal liquid, vomit, excess pulmonary fluid, lung congestion or dysfunction, pneumonia, fainting and red blood cell destruction, abnormal electrocardiograms, low blood pressure and kidney failure or damage.

In studies with animals secondary effects were reported in addition to gastrointestinal irritation, such a reduced consumption of food and diminished weight gain in rats and dogs, and diarrhea and weight loss in cattle. (Cox, 1995; Dinham, 1999; Greenpeace, 1997; Moses, 1993; Williams et. al., 2000)

According to Williams et. al (2000)[3], the herbicide Roundup's cute toxicity in rats —as that of glyphosate— is very low, with oral and dermal LD50[4] values of over 5000 mg/kg of body weight (apparently in the rats' case the POEA surfactant has no influence), and the CL50[5] inhaled for 4 hours by the rats was 3.18 mg/L. According to Monsanto's technical sheet (1992) oral LD50 for rats is 5.600 mg/kg.

POEA surfactant's acute toxicity (contained in the formulation) is from 4 to 5 times higher than that of glyphosate and Roundup. The oral LD50 (rats) and dermal (rabbits) is reported from ~1200 and >1260 mg/kg respectively. On the basis of these LD50 (without considering effects to eyes and skin), Roundup and POEA are classified in the following toxicological categories:

Glyphosate,Roundup and POEA toxicological classification (see attachment 1)


Mode of exposure

Glyphosate and Roundup



Cat. Tox.


Cat. Tox.



5600 mg/kg


~1200 mg/kg


~5 times more toxic


>5000 mg/kg


>1260 mg/kg


4 times more toxic


3.18 mg/L


Documents used to promote or defend sales of glyphosate commonly resort to superficial comparisons between the acute toxicity of this product and table salt and vitamin A, without comparatively analyzing possible exposure and risks, nor other types of toxicity including contact, environmental impact and impact on biodiversity of flora and fauna. But what is even more worrying is that no comparison has been made with actual lethal doses for humans, estimated in cases of accidental or intentional ingestion with the aim of committing suicide, reported in scientific journals.

Accidental exposure for humans, according to Williams et. al. (2000), results in most cases in slight effects without death being reported. Nonetheless, the authors report that intentional swallowing of large quantities in cases of attempted suicide has produced severe effects including severe hypotension, kidney failure and in some case has killed. In those cases that have resulted in death, the person generally dies a few days after having ingested the product. In a review of intoxications which have occurred, it was estimated that the amount of concentrated Roundup intentionally swallowed in lethal cases was 184 mL (rang from 85 to 200), although it was noted that ingestion of greater amounts in other cases merely resulted in slight or moderate symptoms. Other studies report that average ingestion of 104 and 120 mL was not fatal, while ingestion of 206 and 263 mL caused death. On the basis of this information, Williams et. al (2000) conclude that “la toxicidad aguda de Roundup en humanos es baja y es consistente con lo que se prevé a partir de los resultados de estudios de toxicidad aguda en ratas”.

This assessment of the risks and dangers for humans is perplexing since there is no comparison between average lethal doses for rats (LD50) and the known doses of Roundup which is deadly for humans. This would lead us to think that the conclusions are not reliable since they are not based on facts. Considering that 41% of the glyphosate that is contained in the Roundup formulation is in the form of isoprophylamine (IPA) salt; that it contains 480 g of glyphosate/L IPA salt; and the average weight for an adult (human male and female) used in safety and risk evaluations is that of 65,4 Kg, the lethal doses of glyphosate in mg/kg of body weight in the cases described are as follows:


Amount of Roundup ingested in deadly cases in humans, (mL)

Lethal doses of glyphosate

in the Roundup ingested,

mg/kg of body weight

Equivalent Toxicological classification in humans

Ranges for toxicological classification


















As of the assumption that no researcher would wish to compare the LD50 or average lethal dose for a human being (that which would kill half of the human population thus exposed) in order to determine a toxicological category, the lethal doses reported for humans are situated in category II (highly toxic) and in III (moderately toxic), nearer to II than to IV where it is reported due to results reported in rats.

Putting much-compared acute toxicity levels into perspective in the cases of humans, we find the following:



Oral LD50 for rats (mg/kg)

Comparison of toxicity levels



Table salt


Vitamin A




~5 times more toxic than glyphosate for rats


Lethal doses in humans (mg/kg


7 times more toxic than glyphosate for rats1.5 times more toxic than POEA


9 times more toxic than glyphosate for rats2 times more toxic than POEA


9 times more toxic than glyphosate for rats 2 times more toxic than POEA


10 times more toxic than glyphosate for rats2 times more toxic than POEA


22 times more toxic than glyphosate for rats5 times more toxic than POEA

On the basis of these particular cases of death in humans reported by Williams et. al (2000), it is concluded that, in terms of acute toxicity, Roundup can be up to 22 times more toxic in human beings that in rats. It has been suggested del Roundup's acute toxicity is probably due to the surfactant.

These evidences explain why Roundup ranks among the first pesticides that causes occupational poisoning in various countries.

        Classification by hazard risk to eyes and/or skin

According to the Farm Chemicals Handbook, document published in the United Sates with information that is acknowledged by the EPA, glyphosate is considered a severe eye irritant and not a skin irritant. In different editions which date from 1994 to date, differences in reclassification —on the basis of risk of ocular damage— have been found: the active ingredient passed from category I (extremely toxic) to II (highly toxic), and there is no longer any information on Roundup, classified in 1995 as highly toxic:



Toxicological Category

Warning on label in the USA



DANGER (eye)


I (technical)
II (Roundup)

DANGER (eye)


II (technical)



II (technical)


Souece: Farm Chemicals Handbook´s

In studies reported by Williams et.al. (2000) regarding exposure of rabbits to the concentrated herbicide Roundup, it was proven to be a severe eye irritant and slight skin irritant, and when, a concentration commonly used in most aspersion applications (~1%), was diluted Roundup was seen to be only slightly irritating to the eyes and, essentially, not irritating to the skin.

POEA was reported by the same authors to be severely irritating to the skin and highly corrosive to the eyes, when tested in rabbits. POEA potential irritation levels is consistent with the active surface properties of surfactants in general. Considering these irritant or corrosive properties of POEA, and having proven that it can increase Roundup's acute oral toxicity in humans from 7 to 22 times (compared with glyphosate toxicity in rats), it can be assumed that it also contributes to making Roundup significantly risky as an eye and skin irritant in humans.

        Concentration of Roundup Ultra in Applications on Illicit Crops

It is a known fact that forced eradication of illicit crops in Colombia through aerial application of herbicides was at one point carried out with Roundup and is now being done with Roundup Ultra. The ingredients of the Roundup family are: basically, glyphosate in isopropylamine (IPA) salt form and the surfactant POEA, and the differences might lie in the varying concentration of the ingredients and in the types or mixtures of POEA, which is a family of ethoxylated amines from animal grease.

According to official information presented in national and international forums by the members and advisors to the Consejo Nacional de Estupefacientes de Colombia (National Narcotics Council), the mixture currently being used is a formulation which contains 38,6% of the active ingredient as an acid, equivalent to 43,9% of glyphosate IPA salt, and not the 41% contained in the Roundup which is commonly marketed. Furthermore, the POEA in Roundup Ultra might have been modified with respect to Roundup, in order to increase the biological action ability of the glyphosate contained in the formulation.

According to the technical parameters of the Consejo Nacional de Estupefacientes for aerial fumigation of illicit crops, contained in its Informe de actividades y funciones de auditoría ambiental ("Environmental Auditing Activities and Functions Report") of November 1999, the following amounts are applied in the mixture:


Plane load

300 – 450 gallons

1137 – 1705 liters

Effective Load dropped (of Roundup Ultra, with 43,9% of glyphosate)

23.4 liters/hectare
(30 to 50 drops/cm2)

10.3 L/ha of glyphosate

Mixture Deposit

0.4 – 0.7 mm3/cm2

40 – 70 liters/ha

If we consider that a 300 gallons (1137 liters) plane drops 40 L/ha of the mixture, with an effective discharge of 23,4 L/ha of Roundup Ultra, this discharge corresponds to 10,3 L/ha of glyphosate in the form of IPA salt. This means that Roundup Ultra is applied to 58,5% of the mixture and glyphosate to 26%, and not to the 1% recommended in the United Sates for soil application with protective equipment and aimed at agricultural weeds.

Consequently, concepts regarding environmental and health safety, made on the basis of risk characterization and assessment as of the estimated “normal conditions recommended for its use” in the country of the North, have no scientific ground in our environment since in Colombia the glyphosate being applied to illicit crops and all of the surrounding areas, is done by aerial means and with concentrations which are up to 26 times higher. That which is further aggravated by the addition of the Cosmo-Flux 411F surfactant, which can multiply the biological effect of Roundup by up to four times. Added to this regrettable situation is something even more perverse, related to the accusation as to the fact that the planes spray several times over the same areas when fumigating peasant zones, spraying the same field up to 4, 6 or even up to 12 times. (Information received by the Defensoría del Pueblo Ombudsman)

        Coadjuvant Surfactants

A coadjuvant is a chemical or a combination of chemicals (generally, but not necessarily, surfactants), geared at improving a pesticide's biological activity through basic chemical or physical interactions with the pesticide and the target at which it is aimed. Coadjuvants can be classified in two great categories: surfactants, that are added to the pesticide's commercial formulation or afterwards to the aspersion mixture; and aspersion oils, which are added to the mixing tank. There are other additives which improve the mixture's stability and which are not classified among coadjuvants. Baeza y Morales, 1995; Parra, 1995)

Aspersion oils are products of mineral and vegetable oils, which improve adherence reducing washing away by rain and limiting evaporation thus permitting greater retention, deeper penetration and increased coverage of microdrops.

Surfactants are tensoactive coadjuvants or active surface agents used to modify the formulation or mixture's superficial[6] tension[7], contributing to improving the pesticide's biological activity.

Tensoactive substances or active surface agents are bi-acting agents or ambivalent materials that accumulate in the interphases of two inmisicible substances, establishing essential interaction between the continuous phase and the discontinuous or disperse part. They can be DETERGENTS or NON-DETERGENTS. Detergency is defined as a cleaning process, where stains and dirt are left in suspension or dissolved. By deterging is meant cleaning and object without producing abrasion nor corrosion. Therefore, surfactants used for agricultural purposes do not include industrial cleaners nor those commonly used for housecleaning, detergents for washing machines and others such as softners, shampoos, and bath products. (Parra, 1995)

Consequently, the conclusions by Williams et. al. (2000) regarding acute irritation, cumulative irritation, photoirritation, and allergic and photoallergic irritation from normal doses of Roundup with baby shampoo or detergents for washing machines —mentioned to conclude regarding the safety of using a mixture of Roundup Ultra (glyphosate + POEA) + Cosmo-Flux 411F, by aerial aspersion in forced "eradication" of illicit crops— are not relevant. Furthermore, up to date, there has been no report in scientific literature regarding research carried out to assess the risks of said mixture.

Plant leaves' waxy surfaces keep salts and polar or hydrosoluble compounds, such as glyphosate, from penetrating; but this limitation can be overcome by non-detergent surfactants (such as POEA and Cosmo-Flux 411F), which interact with both phases, alter the wax of the foliar cuticle and broaden the hydrophyllic canals, making way for the toxin . Similar actions occur with insecticides, surfactants and insect cuticles. (Parra, 1995; Penagos, 2001)

According to Williams, et. al. (2000), due to their physical-chemical properties, POEA and the other surfactants interact and solubilize the lipidic components which characterize skin and mucous membranes. In accordance with this statement, and with the effects of surfactants on insects' foliar and cuticle surfaces as described by Parra (1995), one can deduce that, if the mixture pesticide-surfactant comes into contact with skin and mucous —as is particularly occurring in illicit-crops areas in Colombia, where a mixture of Roundup Ultra (containing POEA) plus the surfactant Cosmo-Flux 411F, with glyphosate concentrations 26 times higher than those normally recommended is being applied through aerial spraying— acute toxic effects of contact as well as glyphosate's penetration and systemic action might be dramatically increased. According to the dermatologist Doctor Homero Penagos (2001), Roundup has caused burns and ulcers in those who labor in the banana plantings in Panamá, where there have been accidental spills; this same doctor has also had to deal with acute intoxication with systemic effects.

Parra (1995) summarizes the effects of surfactants or active non-detergent surface agents on leaves' waxy surface and on insects' cuticle (that which can be assimilated to effects upon skin and mucous) as follows:

  1. “Greater foliar humidity and expansion of drops, which leads to quicker absorption of active agents by the surfaces they moisten, penetrating the aimed at microstructure in a rapid manner and avoiding dispersion.”

  2. “Retention of the disperser on the target, achieving greater adhesion of the 'small drops'.”

  3. “Reduction of the size of the particles in the sprinkler since large drops are not well retained by target surface while small drops stick better.”

  4. “Increased drying time and water retention —at different humicity levels— active ingredients may adhere for longer time spans permitting greater control (agglomeration) of insects or fungi, longer-lasting action of the Active Ingredient on weeds or higher probability of absorption of the fertilizer by the leaf.”

  5. “NON-IONINC coadjuvants can influence the size and form of dry active ingredient crystals. The size of pesticide particles, in some active ingredients, may have considerable effects on its action and persistence.”

  6. “NON-IONINC coadjuvants increase pesticide solubility, particularly that of "small drops" during the drying process. These coadjuvants' concentration increases and allows for greater solubility of active ingredients due to micellization; thus these ingredients can penetrate the target more easily, through hydrophilic pathways (The Micelle is a particle which measures from 0,001 y 0,3 micras; it is formed by an aggregate of resembling molecules and constitutes a colloidal system.)

  7. “Improved physical compatibility of the different pesticide formulations in the mixing tank. Formulation incompatibility may detract from active ingredient function, harming plants and destabilizing the emulsion and dispersion.”

  8. “NON-IONINC coadjuvants influence increased biological activity as well penetration of plant by active ingredients applied. Humidity in healthy leaves increases penetration probability since coadjuvants can modify and dissolve cuticle wax, expanding ducts. Coadjuvants increase active ingredients acting ability but excessive levels of coadjuvant or high ethyl oxide contents can block translocation of active ingredient inside the plant.”

Parra's last statement (1995) regarding the fact that surfactants work better in small doses, makes the conclusion by Williams et. al. (2000) on POEA's irritant potential all the less valid. Williams et. al. (2000) hold that: “POEA is not used in concetrated form but rather is formulated in lower concentrations into an edn-use product (Roundup) and later diluted to very low levels, rendering it significantly less irritating.” According to Parra (1995), this statement is not reliable.

Coadyuvant Cosmo-Flux 411-F: According to Cosmoagro, a Colombian company located in Palmira, in its technical sheet 313.03 of May 30/94, the spraying additive for the Cosmo-Flux 411F agrochemical agent —formulated by said company— is chemically described as a mixture of mineral oil and specialized non-ionics surfactants with coupling agents. The active ingredient, described as a mixture of hexitan esters, is supplied by ICI Specialty Chemicals. Active ingredient additives formed by liquid isoparaffin can be bought from Esso or Exxon. These ingredients are described as follows:

Active ingredient: Mixture of hexitan esters (lineal alcohols + extoxilated aryl) - Mixtures of tensoactive estereoespecific non-iónicos based on lineal alcohols etoxilados propoxilados with small quantities of extoxilated aryl composite.

Additive ingredients: Liquid isoparaffins - High-purity isoparafinic oil.

Cosmo-Flux 411-F's effectiveness is considered four (4) times higher than that of conventional aspersion oils due to the synergism between the paraffinic oil and the specialized tensoactive. This result is similar to that reported on by Collins, R. y Helling, Ch. in his research paper: “Increased control of Erythroxylum sp. by glyphosate utilizing various surfactants” (carried out in hothouses in Maryland, USA and in fields in Hawaii from 1995 to 1997), study which experimented with several cationic and non-ionic surfactants on the effectiveness of glyphosate in the destruction of coca plants.

The non-ionic included Silwet L-77 and Agri-Dex, which, when used individually, did not increase the activity of glyphosate. But, which, when combined 1:1(in volume) in the mixture called AL-77, were the most effective, multiplying by four glyphosate's toxicity for coca, compared to Roundup's commercial formulation. These surfactants chemical compositions are described thus: Silwet L-77: Polialkileneoxido-modificado heptametiltrisiloxano; Agri-Dex: Mixture of polietoxilated derivatives of petroleum oil on the basis of paraffin, emulsifiers based on ester sorbitan.

Animal and Human Intoxications

Rowe (1987), quoted by Williams et. al. (2000), carried out a study with Brahman steers, administering Roundup through a nasalgastric tube in doses of 0, 400, 500, 630 or 790 mg/kg body weight/day for 7 days, after which the animals were put under observation for a two week period. One of the cows died with the high doses, it is believed, as a result of gastric irritation and vomiting, followed by pneumonia from aspiration. The 630 and 790 mg/kg body weight/day doses were seen to cause diarrhea and body weight loss, which was reduced to bland faeces at the 500 mg/kg level. It was estimated that the cows received herbicide Roundup doses from 30 to a 100 times greater than those typically applied to foliage for weed-control purposes. Considering that Roundup doses of this amount would never be used for normal agricultural purposes in the United States, the researcher concluded that exposure to foliage sprayed with recommended uses "should present no risk to ruminant animals.”

However, aerial fumigation in illicit-crop areas in Colombia differ greatly from recommended agricultural use in the USA. As previously mentioned, effective discharges of 23.4 L/ha of Roundup Ultra (10.3 L/ha of glyphosate), are the equivalent of a concentration 26 times higher than that recommended (~1%), and the mixture with the Cosmoflux 411F surfactant can increase fourfold the herbicide's biological action, bringing forth relative exposure levels which are 104 times higher than the recommended doses for normal agricultural applications in the United States; doses which, according to the study mentioned, can intoxicate and even kill ruminants, more so if we consider that the planes repeatedly cover the same ground fumigating it several times over, as denounced with the Ombudsman, Defensoría del Pueblo in Colombia.

The above approaches might help to explain, partially[8], why there is an increasing number of complaints being lodged from the zones being fumigated regarding human and animal intoxication, mortality of cattle, horses, pigs, dogs, guinea pigs, ducks, hens and fish. Up to February 21st 2001, the consolidated reports from the Police of the Guamués Valley in the Putumayo, informed of 4.289 persons affected, 178.377 animals affected, and 7.252 hectares of crops affected (plantain, manioc, corn, pasturelands, mountains, stubble, coca and others,) by the spraying which was initiated towards the end of the month of December of the same year. During the months of January and February of the year 2001, the Personerías, jurisdictional authorities, of the San Miguel and Guamués Valley municipalities received 1.443 complaints by heads of households of which 1.164 (80%) indicated that one or various members of the family had suffered harmful health symptoms which they attributed to the fumigations.

The authorities in charge of the fumigations tend to underestimate these complaints, qualifying them as “orchestrated and induced” by the narcotics-traffic and insurgent organizations, assessment which is based on the US State Department's "scientific" reports regarding the innocuous effects of glyphosate on human and animal health, when used under "normal" conditions. (Pérez, 2001)

If we view the situation from the perspective of effects on human beings, Roundup is more toxic for humans than for cows, since all of the doses (in mg of Roundup/kg of body weight) given to cows in this study were deadly for the people who swallowed them intentionally, according to the data from Williams et. al., 2000. Consequently, the estimate of an exposure to glyphosate 104 times greater due to aerial application of Roundup Ultra + Cosmoflux 411F, raises the significance to dramatic proportions in the case of human beings.

This analysis coincides with that which has been observed by the medical personnel in the hospitals in the South of Colombia, who have affirmed that as of the first fumigations, there was a noticeable increase in consultations due to severe eye and skin irritations, abscesses, impetigo, gastrointestinal complaints (abdominal pains, diarrhea, nauseas, vomiting), acute respiratory infections (bronchitis, influenza, asthma), and conjunctivitis.

Intoxications are even more severe in the case of children due to various circumstances, among which the following can be mentioned (Nivia, 2000; Williams et.al., 2000):

  1. Due to their smaller size they are poisoned by smaller quantities of pesticide than adults.

  2. Due to immature development they are more susceptible than adults to the effects of poisons.

  3. The are more exposed in their diets since they eat proportionally more food per kilogram of body weight than other age groups.

  4. Frequently, children's liver and other organs are not capable of decomposing certain pesticides.

  5. Children's immunologic system is not wholly developed thus increasing risks of illness.

  6. Children that live in the countryside are in contact with pesticides used in agriculture and incur therefore more risks of increased potential exposure.

        Foodstuff Contamination

Analyses of residues of glyphosate and of its metabolite AMPA (aminomethylphosfphonic acid) are difficult and costly and thus are not routinely carried out by the US government. There is, however, research that shows that glyphosate is translocated to the edible parts of the plants. For example, glyphosate has been found in strawberries, blueberries, raspberries lettuce, carrots and barley after being applied to the plants. What's more, glyphosate residues have been found in lettuce, carrots and barley planted a year after the glyphosate had been applied. (Dinham, 1999)

Although washing foodstuff is supposed to reduce the hydrosoluble residues deposited on the surface, no assessment has been made regarding the degree to which surfactants' incremental adherence effect might reduce the efficacy of washing; just as the effect of washing with highly contaminated has not been taken into account.

Glyphosate and AMPA residues —which penetrate plant tissues— are not eliminated by washing or peeling the edible parts. According to the World Health Organization , using Roundup as a dessecator[9] prior to harvesting wheat crops leads to "significant residues" in the grain; the bran might contain residues from 2 to 4 times greater than the whole grain, and these do not disappear after toasting. Residues in barley might be transferred to beer (Dinham, 1999; PAN/Asia y el Pacífico[10].) The Colombian National Sugar Cane Research Center (Centro Nacional de Investigación de la Caña de Azúcar en Colombia -Cenicaña), reports that residues have been analyzed through a thin layerand liquid chromatography in its own laboratory and in samples sent to the United States in order to determine possible contamination of sugar, and that no residues of glyphosate have been detected. [11]

The use of glyphosate on forage and animal feed may result in residues in kidney, meat, milk and eggs. These residues are stable for up to a year in plant materials and in water, and for up to two years in products stored for animals. In wildlife environments they may persist for long periods: in a study reported by PAN/Asia Pacific 45 mg/kg were found in lichen 270 days after application. Analyses of wild cherries after application in wooded areas indicated that residues lasted over 0,1 ppm for at least 61 days.

Glyphosate and AMPA metabolite residues may be a hazardous for consumers and for this reason tolerance levels or maximal limits of glyphosate residues have been established for different foodstuff. Following are some of the limits which are currently stipulated for North America:


Maximal Glyphosate Residue Limits (MGRLs) in mg/kg or ppm





Blueberries and raspberries



Cottonseed crude and edible oil

United States


Rice, sweetcorn, kiwi, eggs, cow milk, beef, pork and poultry.

“ “


Soy beans

“ “


Wheat flour

“ “


Corn, corn forage

“ “


Kidney beans

“ “


Peas, soya forage, wheat, whole wheat

“ “


Cottonseed and colza in the USA and oats in Canada

United States, Canada


Oats, barley, sorghum, dry soya, wheat bran

In the USA tolerance for oats was 0,1 ppm. In 1997 it rose to 20 ppm[12]

Source: FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme. Information available on the Internet.

Precautions and Warnings of Use on the Roundup Label in Colombia

Roundup's evironmental and health risks are widely known by the authorities and the makers of the product, that which is evidenced by the precautions and warnings marked on the Roundup label in Colombia, of which the following are to highlighted:

        Attachement No. 1

Parameters for Toxicological Classification[13]


Toxic category

Category Description*[14]




Eye Irritation

Skin Irritation



Extremely toxic

? 50

? 200

? 0.2

Corrosive: opacity of the cornea not reversible in the first 7 days



Highly toxic




Opacity of the cornea reversible the first 7 days; persistent irritation for 7 days

Severe irritation in 72 hours


Moderately toxic




No corneal opacity; irritation reversible in 7 days

Mpoderate irritation in 72 hours


Slightly toxic




No irritation

Moderate to slight irritation in 72 hours


Baeza, C.A. y Morales, J. Los coadjuvants en la agricultura moderna. Cosmoagro. Memorias Curso Internacional de Protección Vegetal. Universidad Nacional de Colombia Sede Palmira. Noviembre 1995. p. 131-141

Canadian Grain Commission. New export tolerance for glyphosate residue on oats shipped to U.S. News Release. Winnipeg, August 14, 1997 (adquirido por Internet)

Collins, R. y Helling, Ch. Increased control of Erythroxylum sp. by glyphosate utilizing various surfactants. Weed Science Laboratory, USDA-ARS. Baltimore. Draft. 2000. 29 p.

Cosmoagro. Cosmo-Flux 411F, Coadyuvante de la aplicación de Agroquímicos. Lic. ICA 05.4-2186 – Colombia. Hoja Técnica 313.03 Mayo 30/94. Palmira. 3 p.

Cox, Caroline. Glyphosate, Part 2: Human exposure and ecological effects. En: Journal of Pesticides Reform, Volume 15, Number 4, Winter 1995. Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Eugene, OR. USA. 14 p.

Departamento Administrativo de Salud, Oficina de Planeación, Sección Epidemiología. Efectos de la fumigación Valle del Guamués. Febrero 8,9,10 Putumayo 2001. 16 p.

Dinham, Barbara. Resistance to glyphosate. En: Pesticides News 41: 5, September 1998. The Pesticides Trust. PAN-Europe. London, UK.

____. “Life sciences” take over. En: Pesticides News 44: 7, June 1999. The Pesticides Trust. PAN-Europe. London, UK.

Dirección Nacional de Estupefacientes. Informe de actividades y funciones de auditoría ambiental. Ministerio de Justicia y Derecho de Colombia. Santafé de Bogotá, Noviembre de 1999.

EPA. Technical Fact Sheets on: Glyphosate. National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. Documento obtenido por Internet, junio de 1999.

Greenpeace. Glyphosate fact sheet. Washington, April 1997. 4 p.

Meister, R. Farm Chemicals Handbook’94. Vol. 80: C178-179. Willoughby, OH, USA. 866 p.

____. Farm Chemicals Handbook’95. Vol. 81: C188-189. Willoughby, OH, USA. 922 p.

____. Farm Chemicals Handbook’99. Vol. 85: C206. Willoughby, OH, USA. 970 p.

____. Farm Chemicals Handbook’2000. Vol. 86: C205-206. Willoughby, OH, USA.

Ministerio de Salud de Colombia. Se reglamenta uso y manejo de pesticides. Decreto Nº 1843 de 1991. 19 p.

Monsanto. Boletín técnico MON-057-1-71

____. Hoja de datos técnicos de glifosato. Herbicida Roundup de Monsanto. Nº 5, julio 1992. St. Louis, MO, USA. 3 p.

____. Etiqueta del Roundup en Colombia. Mayo 2001.

Moses, Marion. Resumen de datos toxicológicos sobre pesticidas de informes de la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de California. Centro de Educación sobre Pesticidas – Pesticide Education Center. San Francisco, USA. Noviembre 1993. 7 p.

Municipio del Guamués, Personería. Personas afectadas por la fumigación. Departamento del Putumayo, 2001. Colombia. 14 p.

Municipio Valle del Guamués, Inspección de Policía Municipal. Consolidado general de las pérdidas por la fumigación hasta el 19 de enero de 2001. Departamento del Putumayo, Colombia. 8 p.

Nivia, Elsa. Mujeres y pesticides. Una mirada a la situación actual, tendencias y riesgos de los pesticides. Rapalmira-Ecofondo-PAN. Cali, Colombia, 2000. 113 p.

____. Cosmo-Flux 411F, coadyuvante adicionado al Roundup Ultra en la erradicación forzosa de illicit crops en Colombia. Rapalmira, enero 2001. www.us

Parra, Diego F. El uso de los coadjuvants en la formulación de agroquímicos. Cosmoagro. Memorias Curso Internacional de Protección Vegetal. Universidad Nacional de Colombia Sede Palmira. Noviembre 1995. p. 89-129

Penagos, H.; O’Malley, M. And Maibach, H.I. Pesticide dermatosis. CRC Press, Boca Raton. 2001 (www.crcpress.com)

Pérez S., B. Hoja de hechos. Efectos de las fumigación aérea en los municipios del Valle del Guamués y San Miguel, Putumayo. Diciembre 2000 – Febrero 2001. 10 p.

Pesticide Action Network, PAN UK. Glyphosate. Active ingredient fact sheet. Pesticides News 33: 28-29. September 1996. London.

____, PAN Asia y el Pacífico. Glifosato. Documento obtenido por Internet. www.poptel.org.uk/panap/pest/pe-gly.htm

PLAGSALUD. Libres de pesticides. Centro América lo intenta. Sección especial. Revista MASICA Nº 4, diciembre 2000. OPS/OMS. San José, Costa Rica. p. 24-65.

Unidad Municipal de Asistencia Técnica Agropecuaria, UMATA-Puerto Guzmán, Departamento de Putumayo. Cuadro de daños ocasionados por las fumigaciones. Enero 28 de 2000. 4 p.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service by Information Ventures, Inc. Glyphosate, Pesticide Fact Sheets. November 1995.

Velaidez, Rodrigo. Impacto de los cultivos ilícitos y las fumigaciones aéreas con glifosato sobre el medio ambiente. En: Cultivos ilícitos en Colombia. Memorias del Foro realizado en la Universidad de Los Andes. Santafé de Bogotá, agosto de 2000. p. 143-149

Williams, G.; Kroes, R. and Munro, I. Safety Evaluation and Risk Assessment of the Herbicide Roundup and Its Active Ingredient, Glyphosate, for Humans. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 31, 117-165, 2000. (www.idealibrary.com)

[*] Agronomist. Degree in biology and chemistry. Executive Director Rapalmira. Red de Acción en Pesticides y Alternativas – América Latina (Latin American Alternatives to Pesticide Action Network) , RAP-AL. PAN-Colombia (Pesticide Action Network) rapalmira[at]telesat.com.co
[1]Translated from Spanish by María Mercedes Moreno, cortesía Mama Coca (www.mamacoca.org)
[2] Price of a liter of Roundup SL in Colombia in May 2001: Col$14.500 (US$7 dólares)
[3] Williams, Gary; Kroes, Robert and Munro, Ian. Safety Evaluation and Risk Assessment of the Herbicide Roundup and Its Active Ingredient, Glyphosate, for Humans. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 31, 117-165, 2000. (www.idealibrary.com) This study served as the basis for the US State Department to issue its assessment in the year 2000 regarding the safety of aerial fumigation of illicit crops in Colombia.
[4] LD50 is the toxic doses which kills 50% of the animals on which it has been tested. In rats the test is done orally and in rabits dermally. It is expressed in mg of toxin per kg of animal body weight.
[5] CL50 is the concentrated doses of the toxin that kills 50% of the animals tested. Inhaled CL50 is expressed in mg of the toxin per liter of breathable air.
[6]Superficial tension: scope equal to the correlation between the energy required to increase the free surface of a liquid and the area increase of this surface.
[7]Tension: action of the forces that when acting upon a body and keeping it tense keep its parts from breaking loose from one another.
[8] The term “partially” is used because, for example, the degree of oral and/or dermal exposure through contaminated waters (ingestion or bathing), residues in planted or wild crops, foilage deposits (reentry into fumigated plots), and others have not been taken into consideration.
[9] The recommended doses for dessecating grains or ripening sugar cane in Colombia, are equivalent to half or under half of those recommended for herbicide purposes.
[10] Information obtained on the Internet in May 2001.
[11] Personal communication.
[12] Canadian Grain Commission, 1997.
[13] Meister, R. Farm Chemicals Handbook’99. Willoughby OH, USA. 970 p.
[14] Article 14, “Regarding Categories”, Decree Nº 1843 of 1991 of the Health Ministry, which rules the use and management of pesticides in Colombia.

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