The EPA, FDA and other government agencies are often maligned for showing fealty to corporate interests rather than U.S. citizens. The criticism is usually deserved. Citizens pay those agencies’ salaries through their taxes. But among the runaway corporate wreckage aided by captured government agencies, some employees stand firm for citizen safety. One such unsung hero is Marion Copley. May she rest in peace, but may her work and her words of warning never rest. Ms. Copley knew glyphosate is carcinogenic. She tried to hold the EPA’s feet to the fire to announce that fact and protect citizens from it.
A recent Monsanto lawsuit has introduced the world to Marion Copley. An EPA toxicologist, Ms. Copley was dying of breast cancer in March 2013 when she wrote a telling letter to Jess Rowland, deputy director of EPA’s pesticide division. She tried to appeal to Mr. Rowland’s sense of civic duty. As her letter made clear, she was well aware of his history of running interference for corporate interests. What she didn’t know then, but what we all know now, is that Mr. Rowland had no sense of civic duty.
Editor’s Note: It’s not all bad news. The FDA’s David Graham is another unsung hero; he alerted Americans to the dangers of Vioxx. Dr. William Marcus is another. A Senior Science Advisor in EPA’s Office of Drinking Water, Dr. Marcus sued the agency and won, after it tried to destroy him for doing his job – alerting Americans to the dangers of fluoridation chemicals in their drinking water. Another is CDC scientist William Thompson. (It’s heartening to know some exist!)
A Dying Declaration of Purpose
Since a cancer diagnosis is now well known to be most often a result of toxic environmental exposures, Ms. Copley’s breast cancer led her to redouble her longtime efforts to act in the interests of others facing toxic exposures. She had been an EPA toxicologist for 30 years, researching the effects of chemicals on mice. She knew something about toxicity, including the kind in office politics, as her letter to Mr. Rowland made clear, and as his subsequent actions made ever clearer.
Jess Rowland was deputy director of the EPA’s pesticide division in 2013. He led the Cancer Assessment Review Committee, which was evaluating (or pretending to evaluate) Monsanto’s glyphosate. Ms. Copley also served on that committee. In her letter, she described how the property that makes glyphosate such a potent pesticide – its ability to target an enzyme that plants need to grow – also plays a role in the formation of tumors in humans. She named 14 specific methods by which it could do the job. (Fourteen! Where are her study notes now?) She wrote:
“Glyphosate Causes Cancer”
“Any one of these mechanisms alone…can cause tumors, but glyphosate causes all of them simultaneously,” Ms. Copley wrote. “It is essentially certain that glyphosate causes cancer.”
Then she got personal with Mr. Rowland, and in doing so revealed much more about him and the way the EPA too often works, or doesn’t:
“Jess: For once in your life, listen to me and don’t play your political conniving games with the science to favor the registrants.” [Monsanto, in this case, of course.] She closed her letter: “I have cancer and I don’t want these serious issues to go unaddressed before I go to my grave. I have done my duty.” Ms. Copley died the next year, in 2014.
Would that Mr. Rowland also have done his duty. He was, instead, busily acting in a manner which Ms. Copley’s letter telegraphed for future investigations into EPA collusion with Monsanto. Mr. Rowland acted exactly as he had in the past, according to Ms. Copley’s estimation of his past work for EPA. He played his “political conniving games.”
Mr. Rowland’s job required him to work closely with registrants like Monsanto. The documents, however, demonstrate a strikingly cozy relationship with Monsanto employees. One April 2015 e-mail reveals that Mr. Rowland told Monsanto he would try to kill a planned review of glyphosate by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). That agency, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is charged with evaluating potential adverse health effects from exposure to man made chemicals.
“If I can kill this I should get a medal,” Mr. Rowland said of the review, according to an e-mail written by Dan Jenkins, Monsanto’s lead liaison to government agencies. “I doubt EPA and Jess can kill this; but it’s good to know they are actually going to make the effort,” Mr. Jenkins wrote to his colleagues in the same e-mail. (Note Monsanto’s cozy first-name basis with its own regulator.)
Some other EPA officials claimed the ATSDR’s proposed review was unnecessary since the EPA was conducting its own evaluation. Regardless, Monsanto got what it wanted. By October 2015, the ATSDR review was put on hold, and Monsanto was anticipating good news from the EPA. Mr. Jenkins gushed to his colleagues: “Spoke to EPA: is going to conclude that IARC is wrong.” Six months later, on a Friday in April 2016, the EPA’s long-anticipated report on glyphosate, signed by Rowland and stamped “final,” was released on the Internet. It lasted only the weekend. EPA retracted the report first thing Monday morning, calling its release “premature.” Monsanto nevertheless dispatched a press release with the phony headline: “Once Again, EPA Concludes That Glyphosate Does Not Cause Cancer.”
Jess Rowland retired within weeks of the release, which came as no surprise to Monsanto. The previous September, Mr. Jenkins had told his co-workers, “Jess will be retiring from EPA in 5–6 months and could be useful as we move forward with ongoing glyphosate defense.” (Attaboy, Jess!)
EPA Bows to Monsanto’s Own Studies
The EPA has often been criticized for its chemical-screening processes. It relies primarily on research funded or conducted by the chemical companies themselves. In 2015, EPA determined there was “no convincing evidence” glyphosate disrupts the human endocrine system. But that determination was based almost solely on studies funded by Monsanto, other chemical companies, industry groups. None of the industry-sponsored studies, which were obtained by The Intercept’s Sharon Lerner, concluded that there were any health risks, despite the fact that some of their data suggested otherwise. By contrast, a few of the small number of independent studies considered by the EPA did find evidence that glyphosate harms the endocrine system. Unlike the EPA, the IARC considers only published, peer-reviewed science. It does not consider a corporation’s own sponsored studies. Virtually all of Monsanto’s arguments that glyphosate is safe come from the company trumpeting its own industry-sponsored studies.
One EPA Scientist calls out another for Monsanto Support
Time will tell if the IARC can cleave to its designation of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. Meanwhile, how many other EPA employees are working behind the scenes to help Monsanto, while the company continues to spend millions of dollars, just as cigarette companies did, to confuse the issue with yet more industry-sponsored studies. Many or most of these studies are disguised as independent, while a little digging shows that they are industry sponsored, like the ones Monsanto used to hoodwink the EPA and FDA into letting them unleash their glyphosate poison on the world.
More on that later. Stay tuned. . .