EPA Glyphosate Mix-Up Triggers Scrutiny From Lawmakers

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By David Schultz

June 9 — The Environmental Protection Agency's release, and subsequent removal, last month of several pesticide documents has triggered a new wave of scrutiny from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The leaders of several House committees have sent the EPA four letters in recent weeks seeking answers as to why the agency took offline an internal report that found the widely used weed killer glyphosate probably doesn't cause cancer.

The lawmakers are asking questions of senior EPA leadership, are requesting copies of internal communications from the agency and are now summoning career EPA employees to their offices for on-the-record interviews.

The report from the EPA's Cancer Assessment Review Committee was scrubbed after first coming to light in reporting from Bloomberg BNA. At the time, the EPA said it and other documents were posted inadvertently and weren't final, though the title page and every subsequent page of the report is marked with the word “FINAL.”

“EPA's removal of this report and the subsequent backtracking on its finality raises questions about the agency's motivation in providing a fair assessment of glyphosate,” House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) wrote in a May 4 letter to EPA.

Lawmaker Letters

Three different lawmakers have sent four letters to the EPA in recent weeks seeking information about inadvertently posted documents:

  • May 4—House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) requests copies of “documents and communications” relating to the EPA's Cancer Assessment Review Committee report on glyphosate.
  • May 11—The Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Agriculture Committee ask the EPA questions about the release of the glyphosate report.
  • June 7—Smith requests “transcribed interviews” with four EPA employees who were involved in a World Health Organization report on glyphosate.
  • June 7—House Appropriations Subcommittee chairman Robert B. Aderholt asks the head of the National Institutes of Health to brief him on its involvement in the WHO's glyphosate report.

 

‘Transcribed Interviews.'

On June 7, Smith sent another letter to the EPA on the topic of glyphosate, a blockbuster chemical developed by Monsanto that is now the most widely used pesticide in the world.

The congressman said he has learned that several EPA employees were involved in a controversial report on glyphosate from an arm of the World Health Organization. The conclusion in last year's report diverged from the EPA's own report and found that the weed killer probably is carcinogenic.

Smith is requesting that the EPA make these employees “available for transcribed interviews.”

A Science Committee aide told Bloomberg BNA that the committee is concerned that the EPA employees involved in crafting the WHO report, which caused major legal and regulatory ramifications for Monsanto and other pesticide makers, were trying to suppress the cancer review committee report that reached the opposite conclusion.

No Employee Subpoenas

The aide, who requested anonymity, said the committee isn't formally subpoenaing the EPA employees and, therefore, the interviews wouldn't be conducted under oath. However, the aide said issuing subpoenas is an option if the agency doesn't cooperate.

EPA spokesperson Nick Conger told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail that the agency would review and respond to Smith's letter.

Ultimately, the lawmakers looking into this will discover that there is no shadowy conspiracy in play seeking to suppress information on glyphosate, according to Jim Jones, the head of the EPA's chemicals office.

“They were the mistakes of some hard-working individuals who thought they were supposed to be posting something that they weren’t,” Jones told a May 18 pesticide stakeholder meeting. “I recognize why that can easily be construed as ‘somebody’s got the finger on the scale.' ”

Jones added that enough independent entities are looking into the matter that “when they’re done, I’m confident they’ll see it is what I’m describing to you today.”

Committee Leaders Ask About Documents

In addition to Smith's two letters, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Agriculture Committee also wrote to the EPA May 11 seeking answers about what happened with the documents that were taken off line.

Additionally, House Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Robert B. Aderholt (R-Ala.) sent a June 7 letter to the National Institutes of Health pointing out that it provided partial funding for the WHO report on glyphosate. Aderholt requested a briefing from NIH Director Francis Collins about his agency's involvement in the report and its standards for “research funded by U.S. taxpayers.”

The EPA has been studying the safety of glyphosate as a part of its periodic review of all pesticide chemicals. Late last year, Jones told Bloomberg BNA that the agency would likely issue its findings this spring. However, the chemical is no longer on the website that lists the agency's review schedule for the remainder of this fiscal year.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Schultz in Washington at dschultz@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com