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Daily News Blog

30
Sep

EPA’s Failure to Ban Glyphosate Keeps Burden of Protection with Consumers and Local and State Governments

(Beyond Pesticides, September 30, 2022) In late September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the withdrawal of its Interim Decision on glyphosate, the active ingredient in multiple herbicides, most notably Monsanto’s (now Bayer’s) Roundup. The action follows a slew of developments related to the herbicide, including: the 2015 International Agency for Research on Cancer’s declaration of its carcinogenicity; legal judgments and massive rewards to victims who developed cancers after chronic exposures; advocate efforts to get EPA to recognize the dangers of, and curtail, its use; and pushback from industry — most of the latter two coming in the form of litigation. The withdrawal of that Interim Decision means, on the ground that this harmful compound can continue to be used until a next regulatory review decision by EPA. Beyond Pesticides has long been engaged in education on and advocacy against glyphosate use, and was a plaintiff in the 2020 lawsuit, with the Center for Food Safety (CFS), et al., against EPA for this 2020 Interim Decision (ID).

Under FIFRA (the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act) each pesticide must be reviewed by EPA every 15 years “to ensure that existing pesticide products continue to perform their intended function without unreasonable adverse effects on human health or the environment.” Glyphosate’s review was begun in 2009. Such reviews have multiple aspects, which is why EPA says, in its press release, that it “is announcing its withdrawal of all remaining portions of the interim registration review decision.”

Comprehensive coverage, by Beyond Pesticides, of the risks associated with the use of glyphosate (Roundup) herbicides can be found here, here, and here. EPA’s webpage on glyphosate offers multiple assertions and justifications for its ongoing allowance of use of glyphosate-based herbicides, as well as a history of EPA actions and regulations. Among its claims, based on “independent evaluation of available data for glyphosate” are these findings related to human health: (1) no risks of concern to human health from current uses of glyphosate; (2) no indication that children are more sensitive to glyphosate; and (3) no evidence that glyphosate causes cancer in humans.

EPA’s Interim Decision on glyphosate likewise asserted that “there are no risks of concern to human health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label. EPA also found that glyphosate is unlikely to be a human carcinogen.” It did assert that there are “potential ecological risks to non-target organisms, primarily non-target plants through spray drift,” and pointed to anemic text changes as a fix — “interim risk mitigation measures in the form of label changes, including spray drift management language, herbicide resistance management language, a non-target organism advisory, and certain label consistency measures.” The ID came down, once again, on the side of industry and the status quo in concluding that “the benefits of glyphosate outweigh the potential ecological risks when glyphosate is used in accordance with labels.”

As Beyond Pesticides wrote at the time, “EPA reapproval of human carcinogens and chemicals contributing to the pollinator crisis is disappointing for health and environmental advocates, but not surprising to those watchdogging the agency. . . . ‘This is how a captured agency behaves,’ said Beyond Pesticides community resource and policy director Drew Toher. ‘When EPA’s decision making repeatedly reflects the exact wishes of the chemical industry, public trust erodes, and we must look to new policy mechanisms that support the protection of health and the environment.’”

The final Interim Decision was challenged in 2020 by the lawsuit brought by CFS, Beyond Pesticides, and several farmworker organizations to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Plaintiffs argued that:
• EPA’s finding that “glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans” flies in the face of both IARC and independent scientific research, as well as the tens of thousands of lawsuits, some extremely successful, brought by glyphosate victims.

  • The agency has failed to evaluate thoroughly the endocrine and hormone-disrupting impacts of exposures to glyphosate.
  • EPA violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by failing to conduct effective assessment of the effects of the compound on threatened and endangered species and their habitats, as is required under FIFRA and ESA.
  • EPA has not done adequate analysis of human health impacts, e.g., it has not gathered and evaluated data on the ingestion (via skin or inhalation) of glyphosate — the most common exposure vectors among farmworkers and others who work with or around the herbicide. (Beyond Pesticides noted the ubiquity of the compound’s presence in humans when it covered research showing that more than 80% of people in the U.S. above the age of six have detectable levels in their urine.)

In 2021, EPA sought, in response, the somewhat unusual “work-around” of a partial voluntary “remand without vacatur” — a judicial remedy that permits agency orders or rules to remain in effect after they are remanded by the reviewing court for further agency proceedings — for the ecological portion of the ID. In June 2022, the Ninth Circuit vacated the portion of the ID related to human health, finding that EPA’s cancer analysis was flawed.

The court commented, “EPA did not adequately consider whether glyphosate causes cancer.” Beyond Pesticides, in covering that development, wrote, “The court criticized EPA for its ‘disregard of tumor results’; its use of ‘bare assertions’ that ‘fail to account coherently for the evidence’; making conclusions that do not ‘withstand scrutiny under the agency’s own framework’; and ‘fail[ing] to abide by’ its cancer guidelines. In sum, the court noted EPA’s ‘inconsistent reasoning’ made its decision on cancer ‘arbitrary,’ and struck it down.”

The court also ruled that EPA’s Interim Decision triggered obligations under the ESA, and granted the request for remand without vacatur for the ecological portion, but gave EPA a deadline of October 1, 2022 for issuance of a new ecological section. In August, the court denied EPA’s “request for relief” from that deadline. The agency now maintains that it could not possibly meet the deadline, and thus, has withdrawn the Interim Decision.

EPA now says it plans to “revisit and better explain its evaluation of the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate and to consider whether to do so for other aspects of its human health analysis. For the ecological portion, EPA intends to address the issues for which it sought remand, including: to consider whether additional or different risk mitigation may be necessary based on the outcome of ESA consultation for glyphosate, prepare an analysis of in-field effects of glyphosate on monarch butterfly habitat, consider whether there are other aspects of its analysis of ecological risks and costs to revisit, and consider what risk mitigation measures may be necessary to reduce potential risk following completion of analyses left outstanding in the ID. EPA also intends to complete ESA consultation with the Services [the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service], make a determination under the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, and respond to an administrative petition regarding glyphosate before issuing a final registration review decision.”

The agency’s registration review of glyphosate began in 2009; in its memorandum on withdrawal of the ID, EPA wrote that it “anticipates issuing a final registration review decision for glyphosate in 2026.” That represents, potentially, a 17-year period in which use of a harmful herbicide would have continued to be allowed because of EPA’s relative intransigence. This begs the question: how many additional non-Hodgkin Lymphoma cases, or other harms might EPA’s inability and/or unwillingness to act timely and protectively have allowed? The appellate court’s rejection of the ID should have impelled EPA to cancel glyphosate’s registration. But there is currently no indication that EPA will respond protectively to the documented threats to human health, pollinators, wildlife, and ecosystems, and ultimately — years from now — take that action.

Beyond Pesticides believes that EPA should acknowledge the significant risks of glyphosate use, as shown repeatedly by science, affirmed in some respects by the courts, and recognized by juries who have penalized industry for harms to human health. A responsible way to do that would be to issue a final registration review decision canceling the use of this noxious compound — the sooner the better.

Beyond Pesticides wrote in June: “Evidence is mounting against glyphosate, with research showing disruption of bumblebee reproduction, negative impacts on the gut microbiome, increased greenhouse gas emissions, oxidative stress and DNA damage, body burdens, threats to endangered species, and more. If EPA is to convince citizens that it is worthy of the job entrusted to it and not captured by the pesticide industry — in particular, Bayer/Monsanto — it must do a thorough review of all the evidence that finds glyphosate to be carcinogenic. That evidence shows that glyphosate must be banned immediately.”

Source: https://www.epa.gov/pesticides/epa-withdraws-glyphosate-interim-decision

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

 

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