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Federal investigators are looking into whether a former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staffer colluded with Monsanto to slant research on the safety of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the company’s weed killer Roundup.
On May 31, Arthur A. Elkins, Jr., the inspector general of the EPA, sent a letter to Congressman Ted W. Lieu, a California Democrat, confirming that an investigation has been launched into the agency’s reviews of glyphosate and the side effects of Roundup.
The investigation was requested by Lieu, following information revealed as part of ongoing Roundup Litigation, which suggests that at least one staffer may have colluded with Monsanto to suppress or distort information on the herbicide’s safety.
Rep. Lieu requested the investigation in a May 19 letter to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). The move came in response to information disclosed during the discovery process in Roundup lawsuits, including documents that suggested a former EPA official, Jess Rowland, reassured Monsanto that there would be no pesticide review for glyphosate.
Rowland reportedly even wrote that he “should get a medal” for protecting the company’s product. The documents also indicated that Monsanto had ghostwritten academic research articles indicating Roundup was safe and then paid other researchers to put their name on the bogus studies.
“As you are aware, there is considerable public interest regarding allegations of such collusion,” Elkins wrote in response. “As a result, I have asked the EPA OIG Office of Investigations to conduct an inquiry into several agency glyphosate review-related matters.”
Since October 2016, all federal Roundup lawsuits have been consolidated for pretrial proceedings as part of an MDL, or multidistrict litigation, which is centralized before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria in the Northern District of California.
All of the lawsuits involve allegations that Monsanto failed to provide adequate warnings that long-term use of the glyphosate-based weed killer could increase the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other forms of cancer.
The question about the link between Roundup and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was raised by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which decided in March 2015 to classify glyphosate contained in the weedkiller as a probable human carcinogen.
The EPA has since cast doubts on the IARC’s findings, but late EPA toxicologist Marion Copley, who died of breast cancer in 2014, accused Rowland of covering for Monsanto in a letter obtained during the Roundup litigation.
Another email, sent by a Monsanto regulatory affairs manager to other Monsanto employees, reportedly indicated that Rowland committed to trying to stop a glyphosate investigation by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, saying, “If I can kill this I should get a medal.”
A recent U.S. Geological Survey on glyphosate usage nationwide found that an estimated 2.6 billion pounds of the herbicide has been sprayed on America’s agricultural land over the two decades since the mid-1990s, when Monsanto introduced “Roundup Ready” crops that are designed to survive being sprayed with glyphosate, killing the weeds but not the crops.
The lawsuits over Roundup allege that plaintiffs may have avoided a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or other cancers if they had been warned about the Roundup risks for farmers, landscapers and others in the agricultural industry, as safety precautions could have been taken or other products could have been used to control the growth of weeds.
Following coordinated proceedings before Judge Chhabria, if Roundup settlements or another resolution for the cases are not reached, each individual complaint may be remanded back to the federal courts where it was originally filed for an individual trial date.