WASHINGTON – In a legal brief filed with a federal appeals court this week, EWG staff attorneys argue Monsanto relied heavily on an untrustworthy and dubious government risk assessment to dispute a jury’s findings that the agrochemical company’s Roundup weedkiller caused cancer in a California man.
Attorneys with EWG submitted a 43-page amicus brief to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Edwin Hardeman, who successfully sued Monsanto in February 2016. In reaching its verdict in the Hardeman v. Monsanto case in a federal district court in San Francisco in March 2019, the jurors found that exposure to glyphosate, the signature ingredient in Roundup, caused Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Jurors awarded Hardeman $80 million in damages.
In June 2018, Bayer acquired Monsanto in a deal worth $66 billion and is now trying to reverse the verdict in its pending appeal to the Ninth Circuit.
“Mr. Hardeman and the others whose cancer was caused by Monsanto’s poison deserve every penny awarded to them in court,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “As this brief lays out, Monsanto and the Environmental Protection Agency took extraordinary steps to craft a risk assessment for Roundup that ignored critical pathways of exposure and dozens of independent studies, many of which showed strong evidence that the herbicide causes cancer in people.”
“Colluding with regulators in Trump’s EPA to hide the cancer risks of Roundup is business as usual for Monsanto, but their deceitful and dangerous behavior shouldn’t be rewarded by the courts,” added Cook. “This company needs to be held responsible for the harm it has and is causing to an untold number of Americans.”
Bayer-Monsanto is appealing the verdict before the Ninth Circuit, and Hardeman’s attorneys invited EWG to weigh in with the court through the amicus brief filed on March 30 by EWG General Counsel Caroline Leary and Legislative Attorney Melanie Benesh.
The focus of EWG’s brief is to show that the EPA’s risk assessment for glyphosate, heavily used by Monsanto to cast doubt on the Hardeman verdict before the appellate court, is not only unreliable but also influenced heavily by Monsanto itself.
When drafting its risk assessment, the EPA largely depended on studies paid for and conducted by Monsanto, while completely ignoring a wide body of independent research that show connections between cancer and exposure to glyphosate and Roundup.
In March 2015, as the EPA was working on its own risk assessment, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC – an arm of the World Health Organization – classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The 17-member panel of scientists reviewed nearly 1,000 peer-reviewed, published studies on the potential carcinogenicity of the chemical. The EPA ignored many of those studies.
Not only did the EPA ignore the IARC’s findings, and the underlying research that informed the panel’s conclusion the weedkiller probably causes cancer in people, but some EPA officials may have colluded with Monsanto to try to block the release of another federal government risk assessment.
Internal emails between Monsanto and Jess Rowland, who was leading EPA’s cancer assessment review of glyphosate, show Rowland colluding with company executives to try to stop release of the cancer assessment by the Agency for Toxic Chemicals and Disease Registry, or ATSDR, part of the Department of Health and Human Services.
In an April 2015 email exchange, Monsanto executive Dan Jenkins said Rowland, who is now retired from the EPA, said, “If I can kill this [ATSDR assessment] I should get a medal,” according to internal memos from Monsanto made public during two other similar trials where the juries found in favor of the plaintiffs.
In another text message exchange, in June 2015, Monsanto scientist Eric Sachs contacted then-EPA official Mary Manibusan, asking her to help connect him with officials at ATSDR before the agency published its assessment.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to keep from having a domestic IARC occur w this group. may need your help,” wrote Sachs.
“It’s been a while but I can. Sweetheart, I know lots of people so you can count on me,” Manibusan replied.
When the ATSDR assessment eventually came out, in April 2019, it largely supported the conclusion by the IARC that glyphosate could cause cancer in people.
Shockingly, the EPA largely considered dietary exposure to glyphosate and did not conduct a risk assessment on occupational or home exposure, which is where the risk to people, including farmworkers, groundskeepers and gardeners, is greatest.
The IARC considered hazards from multiple routes of exposure, including occupational exposure. The EPA largely limited its assessment to dietary risks in the general population from residues in food. EWG-commissioned laboratory tests have repeatedly found glyphosate contamination in oat-based foods that exceed levels deemed safe by EWG scientists. EWG has pressed food companies to eliminate the contamination by prohibiting the use of glyphosate as a pre-harvest desiccant on oats, and Kellogg’s has announced a plan to do so.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.