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Some Links to Cancer Shown in Draft Review of Common Pesticide

April 8, 2019, 7:50 PM

A draft federal report finding some links between the active ingredient in Roundup and some forms of cancer could affect the widespread legal proceedings involving the weedkiller.

On April 8, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, (ATSDR), part of the Department of Health and Human Services, released a long-awaited draft toxicological profile of glyphosate, the active ingredient found in Roundup weedkillers.

According to the report, “numerous studies reported risk ratios greater than one for associations between glyphosate exposure and risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or multiple myeloma.”

A risk ratio of greater than one means that being exposed to a certain substance increases risk of cancer, while a ratio less than one decreases risk.

Lawsuits Ongoing

The legal troubles that Bayer inherited following its 2018 purchase of Monsanto are continuing to unfold in a sprawling multi-district lawsuit containing more than 1,600 cases.

On March 19, a six-person jury in a San Francisco federal court found that Roundup was a “significant factor” in causing the non-Hodgkin lymphoma of 70-year-old Edwin Hardeman. The jury later awarded Hardeman $80 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

Throughout the proceedings, Bayer has maintained that glyphosate is safe to use and doesn’t view the ATSDR report as proof one way or the other.

“We welcome another scientific perspective on what’s the most studied substance of its kind, glyphosate,” a Bayer spokesperson said in a statement to Bloomberg Environment.

The company said its experts are still reviewing the draft profile in full detail but that it continues to have confidence in the safe use of glyphosate, backed up by an extensive body of science, 40 years of real-world experience, and the conclusions of regulatory agencies.

“Including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, European Food Safety Authority, European Chemicals Agency, German BfR, and Australian, Canadian, Korean, New Zealand and Japanese regulatory authorities, as well as the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Meeting on Pesticide Residues, confirm that glyphosate‐based products are safe when used as directed and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic,” the company said.

Growing Public Concerns

Last week, the House Science Committee sent a letter to ATSDR Director Patrick Breysse, asking for the status on the draft report, which has been in the works since 2015.

Environmental groups have questioned the science that regulators have used to approve glyphosate, arguing that it often doesn’t reflect conditions that farmworkers and individuals are actually exposed to.

“The risks would’ve been found to be greater had they given sufficient weight to more realistic studies of people and test animals exposed to the full product, not just one chemical in Roundup,” said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Sass also points out that the ATSDR report raises the issue of endocrine, reproductive, and developmental concerns “that are not being addressed in some of the high-profile litigation that’s grabbing headlines,” she said.

Despite the correlation to increased risk of cancer, the ATSDR document also reported that the associations “were statistically significant only in a few studies.”

“There does seem to be an effect. It’s not a large risk [of NHL] but it’s there based on what ATSDR has found,” said Tina Levine, a former manager in EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, where she ran the Health Effects Division.

“That said, consumer exposures are likely to be very different from professional applicators,” she added.

The draft is available for public comment on the Federal Register until July 8.

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Allington in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at; Steven Gibb at; Rob Tricchinelli at