Did you know more than 9 in 10 Americans live in counties where a controversial herbicide is used in agriculture?
Glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup), along with a number of other herbicides and pesticides have long played a role in American agriculture, but their health risks are only now being understood. As a result, over 12,000 cancer lawsuits have been filed against the makers of Roundup, Monsanto and parent company Bayer AG.
In our report, we looked at data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to see which compounds were most popular and which states and cities had the highest usage levels of these chemicals. We then uncovered which U.S. states had the most and least exposure to pesticides, herbicides and other agricultural chemicals, with a particular focus on glyphosate. It was discovered that more than 96% of Americans, or about 314 million people, reside in counties where farmers use glyphosate.
“Some of these compounds (like glyphosate) are technically herbicides, but for the purposes of this article, we’re using the term pesticide to cover all such chemicals, as the USGS data does.”***
In This Report
- Top 20 Most Used Pesticides in America
- The States That Use the Most (and Least) Pesticides in America
- The States That Use the Most (and Least) Glyphosate in America
- The States With Highest Percentage Glyphosate Use
- The Cities That Use the Most Glyphosate in America
- Take These Steps to Help Ban Glyphosate in Your State
This first chart shows the top 20 most used pesticides in America with glyphosate being the most widely used of them all.
By a significant margin, the most popular herbicide in the United States is glyphosate, which is four times more popular than the second most popular chemical. Not surprisingly, large agricultural states like California, Washington, and Illinois use the most pesticides.
However, some states that use a lot of these chemicals see very little glyphosate usage, while others nearly exclusively use the compound. In California for example, only 6 percent of pesticide usage is glyphosate, while in Montana, 52 percent of such usage is from glyphosate.
Before diving into the results, it’s worth spending a moment on the methodology and data source. We looked at data from the Pesticide National Synthesis Project published by the USGS, a division of the Department of the Interior that estimates pesticide, herbicide, and fungicide usage in agricultural operations throughout the 48 continental states. Some of these compounds (like glyphosate) are technically herbicides, but for the purposes of this article, we’re using the term pesticide to cover all such chemicals, as the USGS data does.
We looked at the most recent data that was available for all states (2016) and used the high-end estimates provided.
The USGS counts over 400 pesticides as part of its survey, but the top 20 pesticides make up 80 percent of all pesticide usage. The chart below shows the estimated usage of these pesticides by kilogram:
By a significant margin, glyphosate is the most popular pesticide used in American agriculture. Over 130 million kilograms were used in 2016, which was approximately four times more than the second-place pesticide, Atrazine.
In total, just over 544 million kilograms of pesticides were used in the U.S. in 2016, and 24 percent of that was glyphosate. It’s hard to overestimate just how pervasive Roundup and glyphosate are this country.
In general, where are pesticides most common in the United States? The next chart shows kilograms of all pesticides used in each state measured by the USGS data.
Agricultural states with large swaths of land use the most pesticides, and as a result, California uses the most pesticides by far. California makes up 11.6 percent of all pesticide usage nationally and uses nearly twice as much as the second-ranking state, Washington. As would be expected, states with smaller land masses and less agriculture, such as much of New England, use the least pesticides.
Which states use the most and least glyphosate, the compound that’s currently making headlines for causing cancer? The next chart shows kilograms of glyphosate used in each state.
Interestingly, the states that use a lot of glyphosate are not necessarily the ones that use a lot of pesticides in general. The states with the highest volume of glyphosate are Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas, which weren’t the ones that use the most pesticides overall. Neither California nor Washington (the two largest users of pesticides in general) make the top 10 states for glyphosate usage.
It’s worth noting that just because a state has a lot of agriculture or uses a lot of pesticides, that doesn’t necessarily mean that glyphosate is the favored pesticide in farming throughout the state. The chart below shows the percentage of pesticide usage by state for glyphosate versus all pesticides:
For states like Montana and South Dakota, approximately 50 percent of pesticide usage is for glyphosate. In general, states in the Great Plains and Midwest dominate the list of areas that are most reliant on glyphosate-based treatments, which can largely be traced to what is grown in those regions.
According to the USGS, corn and soybeans are the crops that are most frequently treated with glyphosate, and these crops are more common in these geographies. For instance, Illinois and Iowa are the top two glyphosate-using states, and they’re also the top-producing states for both corn and soybeans. On the other hand, California sees than 6 percent of pesticide usage from glyphosate-based products, while in Maine and Nevada less than 2 percent of pesticide usage is for glyphosate.
The Chicago metro area, which includes counties in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, recorded about 1.5 million kilograms of glyphosate use in 2016, by far the most of any other metro area in the U.S. Omaha-Council Bluffs, which covers counties in Nebraska and Iowa, was a distant second, followed by St. Louis, which includes counties in Missouri and Illinois.
While most of the leading cities are in states that are among the top 10 states for glyphosate, that’s not the case across the board. Fresno ranks 7th among cities, but California is 13th among all states.
Interestingly, several of the metro areas we’ve listed are spread across multiple states, many of which are among the top 10 glyphosate states. St. Louis, for instance, includes counties in both Missouri and Illinois, states that both appear in the top 10 glyphosate states. Illinois accounts for six of the top 30 cities, North Dakota has five, and Iowa accounts for four.
Of states that have metro areas on our top 30, Tennessee is the lowest-ranking overall for glyphosate use, coming in at 19th on that list.
With the recent Roundup verdicts, it’s likely that the number of glyphosate-related legal cases will only continue to increase. Pesticide usage is most common in large agricultural states like California, but that doesn’t mean those states use a lot of glyphosate-based products. For example, in California only 6 percent of its pesticide usage is glyphosate, where as in Montana that number is 52%.
States in the Great Plains and Midwest tend to use glyphosate at the highest rate, while a number of locations (mostly on the coasts) are starting to ban the chemical. As glyphosate continues to dominate the news and the health effects are better understood, it’s likely these bans may keep accelerating.
If seeing the amount of cancer-linked Roundup and glyphosate that’s used in your state has you worried about the safety of yourself and your family, you’re not alone. For years, environmental and public safety advocacy groups have been urging local, state and federal regulators and lawmakers to take steps to remove this dangerous herbicide from the marketplace, and while Roundup is still in wide use, many cities and businesses have heard the concern from their local communities.
In more than a dozen cities and counties around the United States, local governments have halted their use of Roundup on public spaces, such as parks and sports fields, and some stores have pulled the product from their shelves. But still, far too many communities are still at risk.
What can you do to make a difference? Here are steps you can take to make sure glyphosate is not used in your community:
- Find out if your state or local governments list glyphosate as a potential danger. California officially lists glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, and legislation has advanced in Hawaii that would restrict glyphosate and similar chemicals, but few other state legislatures or regulators have taken action.
- Find contact information for federal, state, and local government officials. Click here to get in touch with these officials using the USA.gov database.
- Let them know about your concerns over glyphosate. Regardless of how your state lists or regulates glyphosate, remember that so far, no state outright bans the use of the chemical, so call, write and/or email your elected representatives and let them know about your concerns over glyphosate and Roundup and that you urge the state legislature and your Congressional representatives and senators to propose legislation that would restrict or ban Roundup and other glyphosate-based products.
- Contact your city, town or county representatives. Find out if Roundup or other glyphosate-based herbicides are used to control weeds in public spaces or if your community has any other restrictions on such chemicals. Ask for a special hearing of the board that makes determinations on what chemicals can be used in public spaces, or ask for time on the agenda of the next meeting of that board. Cite the research on this page and any other research you’ve done on the topic when you are in front of the committee.
- Write letters to the editors of your local papers and other trusted publications, TV stations or radio stations. Inform your friends and neighbors of the local ordinances governing Roundup. Contact your local school board members and school superintendent or administrator and find out if Roundup or any other glyphosate-based product is used on any school grounds and if so, urge them to immediately halt its use.
- Ask to speak with the manager of any hardware or garden-supply stores in your community. See if they would be willing to remove Roundup and any other glyphosate-based products from their shelves. While it’s unlikely the local manager of a large chain home store would be able to make that decision, many smaller stores are locally owned and you could have a larger impact there.
- Don’t give up. Changing people’s minds on this topic is a challenge. Monsanto, the company that makes Roundup, spent about $17 million trying to discredit the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s determination that glyphosate was linked to cancer, and the company has very deep pockets when it comes to defending itself in court. It’s crucial that you keep up pressure on your local, state and federal elected officials. If your state legislators fail to pass a bill to regulate glyphosate, make sure they bring it up at the next session. If your local councils and boards decline to give you a hearing, continue pressing them on this issue; remember that they actually work for you and not the other way around.
- Make sure that your home is free of Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides. Be sure that any landscaping contractors you hire do not use glyphosate-based products. Talk to your neighbors and convince them to use alternative products or solutions for killing weeds. Get your friends and other family members to do the same.
Glyphosate is so widely used because it’s incredibly effective at killing weeds and raising agricultural yields. But we now know far too much about the cost to human lives to continue using this product with such recklessness. Are we finally reaching a tipping point on glyphosate? With your help and action at the local level, that answer could well be yes.
Methodology: We looked at data from the Pesticide National Synthesis Project published by the USGS, a division of the Department of the Interior that estimates pesticide, herbicide, and fungicide usage in agricultural operations throughout the 48 continental states. Some of these compounds (like glyphosate) are technically herbicides, but for the purposes of this article, we’re using the term pesticide to cover all such chemicals, as the USGS data does. We looked at the most recent data that was available for all states (2016) and used the high-end estimates provided.
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