“For once in your life, listen to me and don’t play your political conniving games with the science to favor the registrants. For once do the right thing and don’t make decisions based on how it affects your bonus.”
These words, penned in 2013 by former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientist Marion Copley, have an urgency seldom found in the dry correspondence that is typically passed between scientists. But this was no ordinary memo; it was an appeal, a desperate plea for action. And it was written on her death bed. The letter is addressed to Jess Rowland, at that time the head of the EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC). It begins by noting 14 separate effects of glyphosate (a herbicide marketed by Monsanto under the name “Roundup”) known to the EPA.
As Copley explains in the letter, “any one of these mechanisms alone listed can cause tumors, but glyphosate causes all of them simultaneously.” She argues that the CARC should change its assessment of glyphosate from a “possible cause of cancer” to the more definitive “probable human carcinogen.” And she excoriates Rowland himself, noting that his “trivial MS degree from 1971 Nebraska is far outdated” and that as a result CARC science is 10 years behind the literature. She charges Rowland and his colleague, Anna Lowit, with intimidating staff and changing reports to favor industry interests. And she ends with these haunting words:
“I have cancer and I don’t want these serious issues in HED [the Health Effects Division] to go unaddressed before I go to my grave. I have done my duty.”
She may have done her duty, but she did not get her wish. Just nine months later she was dead, and the EPA still listed glyphosate as a “possible” carcinogen.
Copley’s letter is just one of the many dramatic pieces of evidence submitted as part of a new filing in a class action lawsuit against Monsanto that is currently before the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California. The lawsuit alleges that Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer (now officially the most-used agricultural chemical of all time!) is responsible for the non-Hodgkin lymphoma of thousands of people across the country.
Independent scientists, natural health activists and even government agencies have been warning of glyphosate’s dangerous effects on human health for years, but, as Corbett Reporteers will remember, the herbicide came under special scrutiny in 2015, when the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) officially declared it a “probable human carcinogen,” the same status Dr. Copley was arguing for in her 2013 letter to the EPA. Since then, dozens of lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto blaming the company’s Roundup weed killer for their cancer. In October 2016, the cases were consolidated into a single trial, “IN RE: ROUNDUP PRODUCTS LIABILITY LITIGATION” (MDL No. 2742, Case No. 16-md-02741-VC).
The latest remarkable twist in this sordid courtroom drama is that Jess Rowland, the recipient of Dr. Copley’s terminal letter, will likely be compelled to testify in the case after having been subpoenaed by the plaintiffs. Last year a CARC report declaring glyphosate “Not Likely to be Carcinogenic to Humans” was mysteriously leaked and then retracted, but not before it was used by Monsanto to “refute” the WHO’s assessment. The report bore Rowland’s signature, and he retired from the agency just days after the “inadvertent” leak.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, presiding over the case, did not mince words, declaring Rowland’s actions and his likely collusion with Monsanto to be “highly suspicious” and adding,
“When you consider the relevance of the EPA’s reports, and you consider their relevance to this litigation, it seems appropriate to take Jess Rowland’s deposition.”
So as things sit, it is very likely that the former head of the EPA’s cancer review board will be sitting on a very hot seat in a California court room answering some uncomfortable questions about his relationship with Monsanto. The case may not only open the door for thousands of cancer victims in the US to achieve some restitution from the company they believe responsible for their condition, but may also blow the lid off of the EPA’s supposed impartiality when it comes to such assessments.
And as rewarding as these developments are in themselves, they in turn pay further dividends. Readers of this column will remember how Bayer AG is preparing to swallow Monsanto in an effort to further consolidate the already centralized agrochemical industry. But as Bloomberg notes, reporting on the pending testimony from Rowland:
The dramatic turn in the litigation comes less than a week after Bayer AG signaled that it may face delays in its deal to buy St. Louis-based Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, for about $66 billion. Some investors have doubted the takeover will be approved due to regulatory concerns.
So BayerSanto may not happen after all, and there remains the possibility that the corporate heads of Monsanto may one day face justice for their crimes. It’s hard to imagine “good news” and “Monsanto” appearing in the same news story, but this may be a rare example.