Sep 26, 2018
by Gary Pace M.D.
In the not so distant past, the controversies around what risk different chemicals such glyphosates posed to human health pitted the Federal regulators against the Industry representatives. Now, in this new era, many of the leaders at the Environmental Protection Energy have actually come from the ranks of Chemical Industry lobbyists. Not surprisingly, despite increasing evidence of human toxicity, these regulators seem to be losing interest in limiting human exposure to these potentially dangerous substances.
As we saw with cigarettes and lung cancer, it is notoriously difficult to causally link chemical exposure with cancer. The studies went on for years, and the Tobacco Industry developed a book of tricks to make any doubts of causation to seem more significant than they turned out to be. Now let's look at Glyphosate. This chemical used in many herbicides, including the mega-seller Roundup, was developed by Monsanto 40 years ago. Its success stems from its ability to prevent plants from doing photosynthesis.
In 2015 the World Health Organization declared glyphosate a probable carcinogen. California eventually considered it a “chemical known to cause cancer,” but Federal regulators have been reluctant to classify it as dangerous. Contrarily, a recent NIH study showed no association with Glyphosate and cancer, and they released a draft in December of 2017 saying that it is “most likely not carcinogenic to humans.”
Last month, in a landmark case a California jury found that Monsanto had failed to warn a janitor of the cancer risks posed by Roundup. He developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after using the weedkiller as part of his job as a school groundskeeper. Monsanto was ordered to pay $289 million and is currently facing over 5000 similar suits. The lawyers claim that they had shown jurors internal company documents “proving that Monsanto has known for decades that glyphosate and specifically Roundup could cause cancer.” Monsanto is expected to appeal the ruling.
While the case of the specific workplace exposure is concerning, this chemical is ubiquitous in our society. A recentNew York Times article (8/15/18 NYT) documented a study where traces of glyphosates were found in 31 of 45 samples of Cheerios, Quaker Oats and other breakfast foods. As is evident from all of the controversy, we do not really know what a safe level is.
A really good article by Kaun and Warwick in the Press Democrat on 9/2/18 demonstrates:
Now the Trump administration is trying to restrict the use of a certain type of human study from impacting rule-making. The government has a new proposal, “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” where they challenge the validity of the well-established discipline of epidemiology. In the last 20 years, these types of studies have been the way to shift the investigations that influence policy to human studies and away from animal research. The Minnesota Department of Health has come out to call this new approach of the EPA “...a naked attempt to use a false claim that something nefarious is going on with these studies in an effort to allow industry to challenge conclusions that are not in their favor.”
We are in a particularly challenging time with environmental and climate concerns increasing in prominence, yet the government regulators’ reservations about economic impact of the regulations are leading them to be more aggressive at rolling back protections for human health. Developed at a conference in 1998, the “Precautionary Principle” continues to be a useful guide, and one we would tend to choose to protect our families:
"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically”
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