The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Inspector General is investigating allegations of collusion between a former EPA Deputy Director and Monsanto, according to a letter sent from the Inspector General’s office to a California lawmaker.
The letter came in response to a request from Congressman Ted Lieu (D – CA) to investigate whether Jess Rowland, a former Deputy Director of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, colluded with Monsanto to conduct a biased review on glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer.
“I have deep concerns with the Environmental Protection Agency’s registration review of the pesticide glyphosate, a potentially harmful chemical to humans,” wrote Congressman Lieu in a letter dated May 19, 2017 to Arthur Elkins, Jr., EPA’s inspector general.
Congressman Lieu requested the inspector general’s office investigate the alleged collusion after seeing unsealed court documents from the ongoing Roundup cancer litigation, which involves hundreds of people from all across the country who claim exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup caused them to develop cancer.
According to court documents, Jess Rowland allegedly bragged to a Monsanto executive that he “should get a medal” if he could kill another government agency’s investigation into glyphosate. At the time of Rowland’s alleged boast, court documents show that Monsanto may have been seeking Rowland’s assistance in shutting down an Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) investigation into glyphosate. ATSDR is an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Rowland retired from EPA last year under dubious circumstances. Before he left the agency, Rowland chaired the Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC), which authored a report on glyphosate that concluded the chemical is not likely to cause cancer in humans. The conclusion differed from the 2015 International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) report, which classified the glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.
“In the absence of scientific evidence to support its claim that Roundup does not cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Monsanto has relied overwhelmingly on the conclusions of the EPA, specifically a report engineered and authored by Jesudoss Rowland,” wrote Roundup cancer attorneys in a court motion. “Mr. Rowland is not a medical doctor, has no PhD., was not trained in nor worked in the fields of epidemiology or toxicology, and did not include any medical doctors in his review process and report on glyphosate.”
The CARC report on glyphosate became the subject of controversy because it was leaked and made public on an EPA website, then taken down days later. A few days after the leak, Rowland retired from EPA.
In the Roundup litigation, plaintiffs’ attorneys have been deposing Rowland about his life after leaving EPA, specifically about allegations that Monsanto may have funneled money to him via third parties, according to the Huffington Post.
“If these accounts are true,” wrote Congressman Lieu in his letter to the Inspector General, “I believe they raise serious concerns about the legitimacy of the glyphosate registration review. As such I urge you to conduct an investigation.”
Mr. Elkins’ response to Congressman Lieu stated: “there is considerable public interest regarding allegations of such collusion … As a result, I have asked the EPA OIG Office of Investigations to conduct an inquiry into several agency review-related matters.”
EPA Inspector General Investigation
According to Michael Hubbard, a retired Special Agent in Charge for the EPA’s criminal investigations division, in an investigation like this, the Inspector General has wide-ranging authority to pursue allegations of corruption.
“You want to start looking at money trails,” says Hubbard. “Has [Rowland] benefited from Monsanto? Was the money changing hands with him or his significant other?”
In the coming months, it is likely that the Inspector General’s office will be interviewing Rowland’s former coworkers, supervisors and others, along with combing through records and agency emails. It is possible that subpoenas could be obtained to access Rowland’s bank accounts, or investigators with the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section could also be pulled into the IG’s probe.
California Holding Public Hearing on Glyphosate
In related news, Congressman Ted Lieu’s home state of California held a public hearing on glyphosate yesterday in Sacramento. The California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) public hearing was on the proposed regulatory “Safe Harbor” No Significant Risk Level (NSRL) for glyphosate.
OEHHA proposed 1,100 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day to be a safe glyphosate exposure level. If the proposal were to be implemented, products resulting in glyphosate exposure amounts below that threshold would not require a carcinogenicity warning.
Many people, including scientists, doctors, non-profit organizations and Roundup cancer attorneys, among others, spoke against the proposed glyphosate Safe Harbor NSRL because it poses serious public health concerns.