Glyphosate News Notes

Glyphosate Sourced From Controversial Mines

Roundup, the world’s top herbicide, has been mired in controversy in recent months as the jurors in three court cases have found it causes cancer. Bayer Crop Science, the company that produces Roundup, has been ordered to pay billions of dollars in damages, and thousands of other cancer cases are pending in state and federal courts. And while the majority of the nation’s corn, soybean, and cotton growers continue to use it, Roundup’s damage to soil health and history of producing herbicide-tolerant “superweeds” are also critical concerns to farmers and consumers.

But few people know that Roundup is equally contentious at its source.

Glyphosate, the herbicide’s main ingredient, isn’t manufactured in a lab, but originates in a mine. To produce it, phosphate ore is extracted and refined into elemental phosphorus. While Bayer, which recently bought Monsanto, touts its sustainable mining process, environmentalists contend that the process involves stripping away the soil off mountaintops, which destroys vegetation, contaminates water and creates noise and air pollution that is detrimental to wildlife and the environment for years to come.

For decades, Monsanto has quietly mined the phosphate ore in a remote corner of Southeast Idaho known as the phosphate patch. Because its current mine is nearly tapped out, Bayer has applied for a permit to start a new mine nearby. In May, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the final environmental impact statement analyzing the proposed mine. The agency will issue its final decision later this summer.

But opponents say the government has failed to properly analyze environmental damage, including impacts to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and a connecting regional wildlife corridor, the dwindling greater sage grouse population, and local Native American tribes who depend on the land and wildlife. They point to the cumulative impact of the proposed mine and a total of about 20 other inactive, active, and proposed mines in the phosphate patch, many of which are contaminated Superfund sites that will require years of cleanup.

“From the cradle to the grave, glyphosate is deeply problematic,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which has submitted critical comments to the BLM on the project and is considering legal action. “The environmental costs begin with open-pit mines that destroy hundreds of acres of habitat critical to the survival of imperiled species and end with a pesticide that harms wildlife and people. It’s pretty disturbing.”

The phosphate ore that’s currently used to make Roundup is mined at the Blackfoot Bridge Mine near Soda Springs, in southeastern Idaho’s Caribou County, on public land administered by the BLM. That mine, which began operating in 2013, has enough ore supply to last until about 2022, according to Bayer. P4 Production LLC, a subsidiary of Bayer (and formerly of Monsanto), owns and operates the mining and processing facilities that produce the ore and turn it into phosphorus.

Bayer’s newly proposed project, the 1,559-acre Caldwell Canyon mine located just northeast of the town of Soda Springs, would start extracting ore in 2023 and operate for an estimated 40 years. It would disturb 1,559 acres—one-fourth of it public land, the rest private land.

At Caldwell Canyon, the ore would be extracted from two new open pits, hauled out by truck on a newly constructed road to an existing railroad load and transported daily to the Soda Spring processing plant by a train up to 130 rail cars long.

The local Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are unhappy with the proposed mine. Their reservation, located just northwest of the phosphate patch and home to more than 6,000 tribal members, was created in 1868. For millennia, they have hunted wild game, fished the region’s abundant streams and rivers, and collected native plants and roots for food and medicinal purposes. A treaty enshrines their inherent right to freely hunt “on the unoccupied lands of the United States.” But the phosphate mines —as well as cattle grazing and development—have slowly encroached on these activities.

“There is too much destruction on and around our reservation that affects our way of life,” Councilman Lee Juan Tyler said. “I would like to see us all work together in keeping our environment pristine for all.”

A pristine environment, however, is further over the horizon, according to the tribes. The new mine would occupy the land and impact treaty rights and cultural activities, said Kelly Wright, the tribes’ environmental waste program manager. Mining would affect elk hunting and the gathering of culturally important plants such as berries, bitterroot, camas bulbs, flowering plants, and mushrooms. It would also impact sweat lodges, spiritual rituals, and journeys.

The BLM said the abundance of similar big game habitat and vegetation types near the Caldwell Canyon project should provide adequate opportunities for the tribes to exercise their rights to hunt, fish, gather, and conduct other traditional uses and practices, “making these short-term effects negligible.”

Wright said the tribe does use other areas when a mine closes off a piece of land, but the amount of unoccupied land in the area is shrinking and a new mine site also impacts wildlife on surrounding land.

Bayer said the company is working with Utah State University to conduct a habitat research project on 250 acres of its 2,200-acre Fox Hills Ranch just northeast of Soda Springs. The project entails, in part, improving the habitat by transplanting sagebrush removed from the Caldwell Canyon site, as well as planting additional seedlings raised in a greenhouse. Such off-site mitigation is no longer required by the BLM under the Trump administration (though pending lawsuits could change that). Environmentalists say because the land restoration is voluntary and Bayer may decide to stop it at any time, although BLM’s Cudnick said his agency may decide to make the cleanup mandatory.
After a decision on the new mine is issued this summer, and a subsequent 30-day appeals period, Bayer’s subsidiary will likely begin to extract phosphate ore and Bayer will continue to make more Roundup.

“It’s a tragedy that the BLM is allowing a private actor to use public land to create poison,” said Connor from the Center for Biological Diversity. “That’s not what public lands are for.”

source: Civil Eats. June 24, 2019

LA County Bans Roundup on County Property Over Health Concerns
The same day that a second jury in seven months found that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, causes cancer, Los Angeles County banned any further use of the toxic weedkiller by all county departments.

On Tuesday, March 19, 2019 the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors ordered a moratorium on applications of glyphosate on county property until public health and environmental experts can determine whether it’s safe. More than 50 U.S. cities and counties have banned the use of glyphosate on parks, playgrounds and schoolyards.

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, classified the chemical as probably carcinogenic to humans. In 2017, California listed glyphosate in its Proposition 65 registry of chemicals known to cause cancer. Bayer AG, which bought Monsanto last year, faces more than 11,000 U.S. lawsuits alleging that glyphosate causes cancer.

“Kicking Bayer-Monsanto and its cancer-causing weedkiller off L.A. County property was absolutely the right call,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “We know glyphosate causes cancer in people and shouldn’t be sprayed anywhere – period. We don’t know how many Angelenos have been exposed to this dangerous chemical through its use by the county, but we can keep others from being exposed.”

The county’s decision came the same day a jury in a federal court in San Francisco delivered a verdict in favor of Edward Hardeman, who said his cancer was caused by exposure to Roundup. Last year, another California jury awarded Dewayne Lee Johnson, a former school groundskeeper who has non-Hodgkin lymphoma and regularly handled Roundup, $289 million in his case against Monsanto.

Glyphosate is the most heavily used herbicide in the world. People who are not farm workers or city or county groundskeepers are being exposed to the cancer-causing chemical through food.

Two separate rounds of laboratory tests commissioned last year by EWG found glyphosate in nearly every sample of popular oat-based cereals and other oat-based food marketed to children. The brands in which glyphosate was detected included several cereals and breakfast bars made by General Mills and Quaker.
source: https://www.ewg.org/release/la-county-bans-use-monsanto-s-roundup-weedkiller-over-health-concerns.

Seattle has joined Miami, Austin, and other cities in restricting the use of glyphosate
When invasive Himalayan blackberry creeps into one of Seattle’s wooded parks, it takes over, conquering native plants. In the past, Seattle park managers may have sprayed the noxious plant with the weed killer Roundup. But Seattle is the most recent in a wave of U.S. cities turning away from Roundup because of growing concern that it could be giving people cancer.

Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, has helped grow food and stamp out weeds since it was introduced by Monsanto in 1974. Its popularity swelled in the 1990s, when Monsanto began also to sell specially designed crop seeds, including soybeans, canola, and corn, that could withstand the herbicide when it was sprayed on surrounding weeds. The company’s patent on glyphosate expired in 2000, and then other companies entered the market; today, several hundred products for sale in the U.S. contain glyphosate.

Public concerns about glyphosate’s safety grew in the years that followed, so the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer reviewed the scientific evidence. In a 2015 report, it classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” based on the most reliable studies at the time, which were carried out on animals. Since then, people diagnosed with the cancer non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma sued Monsanto (now owned by Bayer), blaming their disease on their exposure to glyphosate.

Juries have sided with plaintiffs, forcing Bayer to pay millions of dollars in damages each time. (Bayer maintains that the chemical “can be used safely and [is] not carcinogenic,” but recently announced it will spend $5.6 billion to develop glyphosate-free alternatives to Roundup.)
While the court cases emerged, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency carried out its own review of the evidence. In April, the agency announced its conclusion that the chemical does not cause cancer in people.

In the wake of mixed evidence and court rulings, cities including Seattle are taking a defensive stance against glyphosate.

“The concern was mainly for the people who are applying it,” says Patricia Bakker, natural resources manager at Seattle’s Parks and Recreation Department. The department stopped using glyphosate last fall, Bakker said, because parks managers worried they were putting employees in harm’s way. It became official policy on August 23, 2019, when Mayor Jenny Durkan signed an executive order restricting Seattle city departments’ use of glyphosate-containing pesticides.

The executive order designates glyphosate as a last-resort option, to be used only to battle the worst weeds—weeds the state requires the city to remove—after other methods have been exhausted. Mowing, mulching, and a plant-killing fungus called rust are some of the first lines of defense. Other herbicides, like those containing the active ingredients triclopyr and imazapyr, can also be used.

Without the power of Roundup, Bakker expects her staff won’t be able to tame non-native plants with the same vigor. “There are just going to be some areas that look a little weedy,” Bakker says.

However, Seattle’s native plants may have a better chance of survival because of the glyphosate restriction, according to one expert. Viktoria Wagner, a plant ecologist at the University of Alberta in Canada, says that because glyphosate is non-selective, it can hurt native plants when it’s targeted at nearby weeds. Hurting native plants deprives them of their ability to compete, and “this gives an opportunity to fast competitors to get a head start and take over,” Wagner says.

When Seattle officials were considering cutting back on glyphosate, they sought advice from San Francisco, which began rolling out restrictions on chemical pesticides in 1997. Seattle’s not alone—tens of cities across the U.S. have recently cracked down on glyphosate use.

In 2018, Portland, Maine, banned the chemical, and Austin, Texas, restricted it. This year, Miami and Los Angeles County approved their own bans on city property. Some cities, like Boston, avoid glyphosate on an unofficial basis. Others, like New York City, may be poised to ban it in the near future.
source: https://www.citylab.com/environment/2019/10/glyphosate-pesticide-cancer-roundup-lawsuit-bayer-monstanto/598537/

Court Documents Reveal That Monsanto Paid Industry Front Group to Push Back Against Scientific Evidence That Roundup Causes Cancer

“If a company like [Monsanto] won’t support us, then who will?” the head of the American Council on Science and Health wrote to a Monsanto scientist in 2015. A day later came the reply: “[T]he answer is yes…. [D]efinitely count us in!!”

Emails between Monsanto and the American Council on Science and Health, or ACSH, and related internal Monsanto emails were first made public during the 2018 trial of a lawsuit by a former California school groundskeeper who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup. The jury awarded Dewayne “Lee” Johnson $289 million in punitive and compensatory damages, later reduced by the judge to $78 million.The internal Monsanto/ACSH emails reappeared as evidence in the most recent lawsuit to go before a court, brought by a California couple who were both diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after decades of using the herbicide. In May, the jury ordered Bayer-Monsanto to pay Alva and Alberta Pilliod more than $2 billion in damages.

It was the third verdict in less than a year in which juries found that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, causes cancer and that Monsanto covered up evidence of its health risk for decades. Last year, Bayer bought Monsanto for $63 billion and is now facing tens of thousands of similar lawsuits.

The emails show that in February 2015, Monsanto was working with ACSH to prepare for the expected fallout from a pending report on the safety of glyphosate by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC. The following month the IARC, part of the World Health Organization, would release a report that classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

Anticipating the report, Gilbert Ross, then the acting head of ACSH, asked Monsanto for support, “particularly if ACSH’s commentary is needed to critique an adverse outcome.”

On Feb. 26, Dr. Daniel Goldstein, the head of medical sciences and outreach at Monsanto, wrote to several colleagues, urging them to support continued payment to ACSH for its work.

Later that day, after his colleagues expressed reservations, Goldstein wrote:

But on March 16, just days before the IARC’s report, the ACSH’s Ross wrote to Goldstein complaining the group has still not received payment for its work on glyphosate:

Goldstein replied “count us in!!,” and Ross wrote back: “Great news, thanks Dan.”

From the emails, it is unclear how much Monsanto paid ACSH to defend the company and its weedkiller. But since the IARC report, ACSH has posted dozens of blogs or releases attacking scientists or organizations that have raised concerns about the health risks of glyphosate exposure. ACSH officials have also been quoted in news media reports, accusing the Environmental Working Group (EWG) – “an alarmist group” – and other glyphosate critics of scare tactics.

According to ACSH’s website, the group is a “consumer advocacy organization” that does “not represent any industry.” But in 2013 Mother Jones reported that an internal ACSH document showed the organization received more than $390,000 in that year from corporations and large private foundations, including $30,000 from Bayer Cropscience, $22,5000 from the Chinese-owned pesticide and seed company Syngenta, and $30,000 from chemical giant 3M, among many others.

The ACSH document also lists Monsanto among “potential sources of support from previous donors.” As the recently released emails show, that potential was soon realized.
source: Court Docs: Monsanto Paid Chemical Industry Front Group To Claim Cancer-Causing Weedkiller ‘Safe’ and Attack Its Criti

https://www.ewg.org/news-and-analysis/2019/05/court-docs-monsanto-paid-chemical-industry-front-group-claim-cancer