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Did Monsanto and the EPA Collude to Slow ATSDR Glyphosate Review?

Male and female scientist in lab reviewing documents on a tablet

Government emails obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests appear to show that multiple Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials worked to slow another government agency’s safety review of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s Roundup weed killer.

According to the documents, the EPA officials implicated in the emails worked to stall another government agency’s glyphosate review at Monsanto’s request and even went so far as to keep the agrochemical giant updated on their progress.

It all started in February of 2015 when the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) indicated that it would be conducting a toxicology review of glyphosate. ATSDR hoped to complete the review by October. ATSDR is a federal public health agency under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) charged with evaluating potential effects of hazardous substance exposure on humans.

It makes sense for ATSDR to evaluate glyphosate—it is one of the most widely-used agricultural product in the U.S. and around the world. In fact, the chemical is so common in food production that glyphosate residue is often detected in human urine testing.

But the ATSDR’s planned glyphosate review never seemed to get off the ground, and with the recent release of emails between Monsanto and EPA, we now have a better understanding of why.

ATSDR Glyphosate Review Announced a Month Before IARC Report

In March of 2015, just weeks after ATSDR announced its intention to review glyphosate, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released its own review of glyphosate, finding the chemical to be a probable human carcinogen. According to the IARC report, the cancers most associated with glyphosate exposure were found to be non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other hematopoietic cancers.

The IARC report created a firestorm of lawsuits against Monsanto filed by individuals who allege exposure to Roundup caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Thousands of people from across the U.S. accused Monsanto of failing to warn consumers about the link between Roundup and cancer.

Most of the lawsuits are currently pending in St. Louis, Missouri Circuit Court. State court cases are filed in California State Court and Delaware State Court. The federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) is before U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria in Northern California.

The IARC report was obviously damaging for Monsanto and the company feared that ATSDR could reach the same conclusion in its glyphosate review. Curiously, when October rolled around and the ATSDR glyphosate review was expected to be published, no review was issued. Instead, the review was shelved and now almost two years later, there is still no report to speak of.

Several EPA Officials Communicated with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at Monsanto’s Behest

Lawyers and the news media have already reported on Jess Rowland, formerly the deputy division director within the health effects division of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP), who bragged to Monsanto that he “should get a medal” if could kill the ATSDR glyphosate review.

But according to the trove of newly obtained internal emails, assistance to Monsanto in stopping the ATSDR glyphosate review came not only from Rowland but also from several other high-ranking EPA officials. Instead of allowing the ATSDR to perform its function as a hazardous materials watchdog agency, Monsanto and EPA both told ATSDR that a review of glyphosate was “duplicative” and unnecessary.

Below is a timeline of how Monsanto and EPA officials intervened in the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry glyphosate review:

May 19, 2015: Monsanto executive Michael Dykes emails Jim Jones, the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety & Pollution Prevention at EPA.

Dykes asks Jones about the ATSDR review: “You were not aware of their review. Did you learn anything more about their efforts?”

Jones then writes an email to Jack Housenger, director of EPA’s OPP: “Monsanto thinks ATSDR is doing a glyphosate Assessment. Could you guys run that down?” Housenger responds: “Yes. Jess checked with them…. It has been difficult to get information.”

May 20, 2015: Jim Jones asks Jack Housenger to reach out to Dr. Patrick Breysse, director of the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH), which oversees ATSDR.

In an email, Housenger tells Breysse that EPA has nearly completed its own reevaluation/risk assessment for glyphosate, then asks if Breysse if he “would still feel the need to do your assessment,” and “whether this is a good use of government resources” for ATSDR to continue with its review.

Housenger does not discuss Monsanto’s outreach to EPA on the issue at hand.

Breysse responds to Housenger that he would “look into this,” then contacted ATSDR’s division director James Stephens to discuss the EPA’s request.

May 21, 2015: James Stephens tells Dr. Breysse that ATSDR believes the EPA work “overlaps but isn’t totally duplicative…” He added, “I think we would all welcome further discussion with EPA but would hope to use it to help us find out more about what they are doing.”

Breysse relays this conversation to Housenger, who reiterates the stance that an ATSDR review would be a “duplicative government effort,” adding that EPA would release a draft of its own glyphosate review in July of 2015.

It should be noted that the EPA’s preliminary risk assessment for glyphosate still has not been released nearly two years later, though in 2016 the agency released a cancer assessment report, which found glyphosate was not a carcinogen.

June 4, 2015: EPA’s Jack Housenger reaches out to Breysse at NCEH again saying he has not heard from anyone on the ATSDR glyphosate review.

At the same time, Monsanto pushes the “duplicative government effort” narrative at a meeting with HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Global Health, Mitchel Wolfe. In the meeting, Monsanto executives ask Wolfe to help repudiate the IARC glyphosate report and to recognize that a review of glyphosate was “not the primary role” for his agency.

A Monsanto memo: “Dr. Wolfe said he would follow up on what was going on with ATSDR and he was encouraged to have discussions with EPA staff, as well.”

June 9, 2015: ATSDR supervisory scientist Henry Abadin tells ATSDR director, James Stephens, he does not believe an ATSDR review of glyphosate would be “duplicating efforts.” Nevertheless, Abadin says he told EPA that ATSDR “did not have a problem with putting the glyphosate profile on hold, pending the OPP final report.”

Jun 19, 2015: Monsanto executive Michael Dykes in an internal email discussing his conversation with Mitchel Wolfe of HHS regarding ATSDR review:

  • “I explained… our question was about the purpose and scope of such a duplicative review by ATSDR. I also told him that we were concerned that ATSDR may come out any day with a report. I again stressed that we were concerned that they were even reviewing glyphosate as were the people we talked with at EPA.”

June 21, 2015: Late on a Sunday night, Dykes emails Monsanto colleagues expressing further concern about the ATSDR review.

In response to the email, Monsanto scientist Eric Sachs sends a text message to Mary Manibusan, a former EPA scientist. Sachs asks Manibusan if she has contacts at ATSDR, then adds: “We’re trying to do everything we can to keep from having a domestic IARC occur w this group. may need your help.”

The text message was published in a number of discovery documents released by the law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman.

June 23, 2015: Monsanto executive Dan Jenkins writes that he heard good news from Jack Housenger at EPA, who apparently received a promise from ATSDR to put the glyphosate review on hold. According to Housenger, ATSDR maintained that “their process is distinguishable and not duplicative. They look at different endpoints and told EPA they don’t “make a call on cancer”, but I think we should continue to be cautious.”

June 24, 2015: Monsanto chief scientist William Heydens responds to Jenkins’ email.

Heydens: “Distinguishable and not duplicative’? Seriously? And I will believe the not ‘making a call on cancer’ part when I see it. Anyway, at least they know they are being watched, and hopefully, that keeps them from doing anything too stupid…”

Oct. 23, 2015: EPA’s Jack Housenger sends Monsanto executive Dan Jenkins an email confirming the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry review on glyphosate is effectively on hold. “They are waiting for our glyphosate RA. And they agreed to share what they do,” Housenger writes.

Roundup Cancer Attorney: ‘That is Collusion…I Don’t Know What Else You’d Call That’

Roundup cancer attorney R. Brent Wisner, who represents victims filing suit against Monsanto, believes these emails between EPA officials and Monsanto offer clear evidence of questionably close ties between an agrochemical company and the government agency charged with regulating it.

“I think it’s very clear that EPA officials and Monsanto employees worked together to accomplish a goal of stopping that analysis at ATSDR,” Wisner told Carey Gillam of U.S. Right to Know.

“That is collusion. I don’t know what else you’d call that.”



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