Read the emails, texts that show EPA efforts to slow ATSDR glyphosate review

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Update: The ATSDR published their draft toxicological profile for glyphosate in April 2019. See coverage: ATSDR Report Confirms Glyphosate Cancer Risks, NRDC (4.11.2019); Some Links to Cancer Shown in Draft Review of Common Pesticide, Bloomberg (4.8.2019); Emails Show Monsanto Cozy with Feds, Courthouse News (4.15.2019).

This article by Carey Gillam was originally published in Huffington Post in August 2017:

Records Show EPA Efforts To Slow Herbicide Review Came In Coordination With Monsanto

Newly released government email communications show a persistent effort by multiple officials within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to slow a separate federal agency’s safety review of Monsanto’s top-selling herbicide. Notably, the records demonstrate that the EPA efforts came at the behest of Monsanto, and that EPA officials were helpful enough to keep the chemical giant updated on their progress.

The communications, most of which were obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, show that it was early 2015 when the EPA and Monsanto began working in concert to stall a toxicology review that a unit tied to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was conducting on glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s branded Roundup herbicide products.   The details revealed in the documents come as Monsanto is defending itself against lawsuits alleging that it has tried to cover up evidence of harm with its herbicides.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a federal public health agency that along with the CDC is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is charged with evaluating the potential adverse human health effects from exposures to hazardous substances in the environment. So it made sense for the ATSDR to take a look at glyphosate, which is widely used on U.S. farms, residential lawns and gardens, school playgrounds and golf courses. Glyphosate is widely used in food production and glyphosate residues have been found in testing of human urine.

The ATSDR announced in February 2015 that it planned to publish a toxicological profile of glyphosate by October of that year. But by October, that review was on hold, and to this date no such review has yet been published. (Update: the draft review was finally published in April 2019.) The documents reveal this was no accident, no bureaucratic delay, but rather was the result of a collaborative effort between Monsanto and a group of high-ranking EPA officials.

For Monsanto, the timing of the ATSDR review was worrisome. In March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had declared glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen, and Monsanto feared ATSDR might have similar concerns about the chemical. Previous reports have described how one EPA official, Jess Rowland, communicated to Monsanto in April 2015 his willingness to try to kill the ATSDR review. Rowland, who retired in 2016, was the deputy division director within the health effects division of the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP). Allegations of collusion between Rowland and Monsanto have prompted a probe by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General.

But the trove of documents newly obtained from within EPA and HHS demonstrate that the assistance to Monsanto came not only from Rowland but also from even higher-level EPA officials. Rather than encourage and assist the toxicology review of glyphosate, Monsanto and EPA officials repeatedly complained to ATSDR and HHS that such a review was unnecessarily “duplicative” and should take a back seat to an EPA review also underway.

The following timeline shows how the events unfolded:

May 19, 2015 – Michael Dykes, who at that time was Monsanto’s long-time vice president of government affairs, wrote directly to the EPA’s Jim Jones, the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Chemical Safety & Pollution Prevention. Jones had oversight of the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) and was a presidential appointee who carried significant clout. The afternoon was waning when the email came in at 3:28 p.m. Dykes reminded Jones that they had recently discussed the HHS’ ATSDR glyphosate review at a meeting.

“You were not aware of their review. Did you learn anything more about their efforts?” Dykes asked.

Jones did not waste time. Roughly an hour later he forwarded the message to OPP Director Jack Housenger, writing “Monsanto thinks atsdr is doing a glyphosate Assessment. Could you guys run that down?” Housenger responds quickly: “Yes. Jess checked with them…. It has been difficult to get information.”

Within an hour Jones instructed a member of his staff to get him contact information for the head person responsible for ATSDR. She replied the next morning that Dr. Patrick Breysse was the point person. Breysse joined the CDC in 2014 as director of its National Center for Environmental Health, overseeing the NCEH’s ATSDR.

May 20, 2015 It was only a little after 8:30 a.m. but Jones told the staff member to instruct Housenger to get in touch with Breysse, and within two hours Housenger had penned an email to Breysse explaining that an EPA’s own re-evaluation/risk assessment of glyphosate was nearing completion, and asking Breysse if “you would still feel the need to do your assessment.” Housenger told Breysse that he already had reached the individual assigned to the ATSDR assessment and she had indicated she would “coordinate” with EPA, but that was not sufficient. Housenger did not mention Monsanto’s outreach to EPA on the issue, but instead questioned “whether this is a good use of government resources” for ATSDR to continue with its review. Breysse responded that he would “look into this” and Housenger thanked him for his quick response. Breysse then reached out to an ATSDR division director named James Stephens to arrange a discussion about the EPA request.

May 21, 2015 James Stephens wrote back to Patrick Breysse that the ATSDR team thought the EPA work “overlaps but isn’t totally duplicative…” and stated that the ASTDR team has not been able to see draft copies of the EPA’s work. “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, ” he told Breysse. After hearing from Stephens, Breysse wrote back to Housenger saying ATSDR staff would be in touch to discuss. Housenger replied with his reiteration that the ATSDR review would be a “duplicative government effort” and that the EPA draft would be out in July of 2015. (As of this writing, that EPA preliminary risk assessment still has not been released, though in 2016 the EPA did release a cancer assessment report that declared glyphosate was not likely to cause cancer.)

June 4, 2015 Pressing the issue, EPA’s Housenger wrote again to Breysee to say he had not heard from anyone yet. The ATSDR’s Stephens wrote back promising to make sure “someone gives you a ring.”  Internal Monsanto emails show that at the same time, Monsanto was also pushing the “duplicative” narrative with HHS, meeting on June 4 with HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Global Health Mitchel Wolfe to ask him to help repudiate the IARC classification and to recognize that a review of glyphosate was “not the primary role” for his agency. “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,” a Monsanto memo detailing the meeting states.

June 9, 2015 Henry Abadin, an ATSDR supervisory scientist, reported to Stephens that he had talked with Housenger and explained that the agency did not believe it was “duplicating efforts.” Nevertheless, he said he told EPA, “we did not have a problem with putting the glyphosate profile on hold, pending the OPP final report.”

June 19, 2015 To further ensure the ATSDR review didn’t move forward, Monsanto’s Dykes talked again with HHS’s Wolfe, asking for an update on ATSDR. “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,” Dykes wrote to colleagues.

June 21, 2015 It was a Sunday, but Monsanto’s Dykes was still concerned enough about the ATSDR review to copy multiple colleagues on a late night email to report that he had continued to press the “duplicative” point with ATSDR but was concerned about a “glyphosate review coming any day.”  In a text message sent that same day, Monsanto scientist Eric Sachs reached out to a former EPA toxicologist named Mary Manibusan asking for contacts at ATSDR. “We’re trying to do everything we can to keep from having a domestic IARC occur w this group. may need your help,” Sachs wrote. The text messages were among certain internal Monsanto records obtained by cancer victims who are suing Monsanto alleging Roundup caused their diseases.

June 23, 2015 By Tuesday, Monsanto’s Jenkins had good news: He had heard from Housenger that the EPA official had been successful in garnering a promise from ATSDR to put its report “on hold.” The review was not dead, however, he wrote: ATSDR argues “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.”

On June 24, 2015 Monsanto’s chief scientist William Heydens responded: “’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…” Jenkins wrote back, acknowledging that Monsanto had much more to fear from ATSDR than EPA as the two agencies had arrived at “different conclusions” on other issues. He reported he had been told ATSDR was “VERY conservative and IARC like…”

By October 23, 2015 EPA and Monsanto had the ATSDR review fully on hold. EPA’s Housenger wrote to update Monsanto’s Jenkins: “They are waiting for our glyphosate RA. And they agreed to share what they do.”

That same month, the EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC), which was chaired by Rowland, issued an internal report stating that contrary to IARC, the EPA’s review of glyphosate found it “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

The EPA still has yet to issue the overall new risk assessment it said would be out in 2015. The agency has offered ever-changing timelines for the assessment, but now says its intends to release a draft risk assessment sometime this year. That will be followed by a 60-day public comment period. After the public comment period the EPA will determine whether any risk management is needed. In the meantime, Monsanto has cited the EPA’s backing of glyphosate safety as repudiation of the IARC finding both in court and with regulators in Europe who are also looking at glyphosate safety issues.

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment about its efforts to delay the ATSDR report or communications with Monsanto regarding that effort.

But Brent Wisner, a lawyer representing many of the cancer victims who are suing Monsanto, said the documents offer damning evidence of improperly close ties between the EPA and the chemical company. “I think it’s very clear… that EPA officials and Monsanto employees worked together to accomplish a goal of stopping that analysis at ATSDR. That is collusion. I don’t know what else you’d call that,” said Wisner.

For its part, the ATSDR said this week that the review it started in 2015 “is not complete” but that it anticipates a draft glyphosate toxicological profile to be issued for public comment by the end of this year. A spokesperson for the agency declined to discuss the circumstances surrounding the delay in the review.

And Jones, whose EPA job ended when the Trump administration took over, defended his responsiveness to Monsanto’s concern about the ATSDR review, saying it had only to do with the “efficient use of government resources.”

“Had any party contacted me and informed me that another agency within the Administration was simultaneously assessing a chemical as my organization, I would have intervened,” Jones said. “There is no value to the same government investing limited resources to work on the same issue. As you know resources at the federal level were and are scarce which made duplication even more problematic.” Jones said additionally that “when two organizations assess the same chemical, it is very likely there will be differences in their assessments.  Even when these differences don’t matter from a public health perspective, an enormous amount of energy is spent attempting to resolve these differences” and that is not ultimately in the “public interest.”

Decades of Deceit: Carey Gillam’s presentation to the European Parliament glyphosate hearing

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Carey Gillam is an investigative journalist and award-winning author who spent 17 years on the food and agriculture beat for Reuters. Gillam is now research director of the public interest research group U.S. Right to Know. These remarks were delivered Oct. 11, 2017 before a joint public hearing on “The Monsanto Papers and Glyphosate” before the European Parliament committees on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety; and Agriculture and Rural Development.

Links: slides via SlideShare; Carey’s remarks; video of Carey’s presentation and full hearing

Decades of Deceit: How Corporate Influence Has Manipulated Science and Safety Assessments on Glyphosate 

Revelations from the Monsanto Papers and Other Research

Good morning – I am an investigative journalist, someone who has spent 30 years focusing on facts, pursuing truth. And having spent roughly 20 of those 30 years delving into the dealings of Monsanto I can confidently tell you that the story of the company’s top selling chemical, glyphosate, is not one of truth, but one of deceit – carefully calculated and choreographed deceit. There is overwhelming evidence of attempts to deceive, and to do so in ways that manipulate the press and manipulate policy makers like you.

In my reporting role I – along with colleagues at U.S. Right to Know – have obtained thousands of documents from our US regulators as well as from US scientists who work at public universities, and these documents show clearly the long history of deception when it comes to presentation of glyphosate matters. In addition to those documents, we have now the thousands of pages of internal Monsanto emails, memos and other documents that make it clear beyond any doubt the efforts by this company to manipulate policy makers and members of the public.

You just heard panelists talk about the science. I’m here to share with you what the documents show about deception. We know from the documents that Monsanto has:

  • Ghostwritten research papers that assert glyphosate safety for publication & regulatory review
  • Provided alternative assessments for studies that Indicate harm; convinced regulators to discount evidence of safety problems
  • Developed a network of European & U.S. scientists to push glyphosate safety message to regulators and lawmakers while appearing to be independent of industry
  • Utilized public relations teams to ghostwrite articles and blogs that are posted using names of scientists who appear to be independent
  • Formed front groups that work to discredit journalists and scientists who publicize safety concerns
  • Provided EPA “talking points” to use if questioned by press about IARC classification
  • Successfully pushed EPA to remove top independent epidemiologist from EPA Scientific Advisory Panel
  • Enlisted 3 EPA officials to block a 2015 Glyphosate Review by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry that Monsanto said would likely agree with IARC

Full text of remarks posted here (PDF). For many examples of Monsanto’s manipulations revealed in the documents, see Carey’s slides posted below – slides also available via PDF or SlideShare.  



Link to video of Carey Gillam’s presentation and video of full hearing

Carey Gillam is a veteran journalist, researcher, and writer with more than 25 years of experience covering corporate America, and a former senior correspondent for Reuters’ international news service. Her new book “Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science” was just released by Island Press. Carey is also the research director of U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit organization that investigates the risks associated with the corporate food system, and the food industry’s practices and influence on public policy.