The Swamp

08/04/2017 03:33 pm ET
Amounts of the carcinogenic part of DDT in the blood of whites and nonwhites in America, 1968. From "Pesticides and their Relationship to Environmental Health." Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Washington, DC, 1969.

Let’s assume you are interested in public and environmental health. Let’s assume further you accidentally enter a huge laboratory in suburban America. The receptionist is a chemist. She informs you the lab has been testing all kinds of chemicals, including pesticides and drugs to make certain these chemicals don’t cause unreasonable harm to people and the environment. You ask the receptionist who founded the lab and she cheerfully recites that a distinguished biochemist from an ivy university came up with the idea to satisfy government demands for safety. Then the receptionist leaves you alone, telling you to wait to talk to one of the scientists who knows more about the lab.

You wait but no one shows up. You decide to explore the place. You enter a large room with the infrastructure of a lab: tables loaded with knives, glass tubes, chemicals, and equipment for operations and pathology studies. You immediately react, wishing to get out of the room. An awful stench is hanging in the air. A broken water sprinkler is throwing water over cages full of mice, rats, and dogs. Rats are running into a swamp: water mixed with animal excrement covering the floor. Then, astonishingly, you see a technician holding a canister of sleeping gas running after rats. You back off in horror and reenter the reception room where the calm receptionist is on the phone calling the police for an intruder, you.

This could be the beginning of a science fiction drama: madmen running a dangerous lab funded by the government and industry.

However, this is no science fiction at all. It happened in a series of large facilities known as Industrial Biotest headquartered in Northbrook, Illinois. The time IBT did its dirty work covered most of the years from the 1950s to the 1970s.

In 1953, Joseph Calandra, biochemistry professor from Northwestern University, founded IBT. He decided he wanted to be a wealthy and influential man. The lab became his instrument of money and power.

Calandra “tested” hundreds of drugs and pesticides for companies, private institutions, and state and federal government departments. By the time federal agents invaded IBT, in 1976, the lab had tested about 40 percent of all pesticides in the country.

But testing pesticides and other chemicals at IBT was primarily a fraudulent affair. The lab had the appearance of a scientific testing facility. In fact, it was a swamp of filth and corruption. It had nothing to do with science. The animals were the front. The scientists were the props.

The animals ate feed poisoned by the chemical seeking government approval. However, it did not matter what the poisoned food did to the animals. The technicians-scientists doing the testing simply trashed the animals that developed tumors, cancer, or other disease. Then the technicians speeded up the execution of the studies by making up data.

That’s how IBT worked. The pathologist who spilled the beans was Adrian Gross. In 1976, Gross made an inspection and uncovered the giant lab was a giant factory of fraud. Gross worked for the US Drug and Food Administration. In 1979, he joined the US Environmental Protection Agency where I also worked. For several years Gross and I were good friends and colleagues. We talked extensively about IBT.

Gross had no doubt the managers of IBT were criminals. Their sole interest was in writing fancy reports of how benign the “tested” chemicals were. I have a chapter on IBT corruption in my book, “Poison Spring.”

This story of fraudulent testing explains the unreliability of company evidence in support of their “registered” (approved) pesticides. The swamp tradition of testing pesticides continues to this day.

EPA shut IBT down in 1983. EPA also shut down several other IBT-like labs. But what EPA did not shut down was the fraud behind IBT.

The inspiration and source for this corruption is the pesticides law, which polluters drafted. This law allows corporations to do the testing of their own products. It also encourages deception, the better to hide risk. Third, agribusiness forced EPA to defend the “regulated” industry. EPA has been ranking pesticides more important than public and environmental health.

For example, Monsanto’s best-selling weed killer glyphosate came out of the IBT swamp. This is something I did not know while serving at EPA. I learned about it from a stream of Monsanto documents that saw the light of the day because so many people have been suing Monsanto for cancer from exposure to glyphosate.

In March 17, 2015, William F. Heydens, a Monsanto scientist, sent an email to his colleague Josh Monken in which he said roundup had “low” levels of carcinogenic formaldehyde and carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds. In addition, Heydens said, “Many tox[icological] studies for glyphosate had been done at a lab (IBT – Industrial Biotest) that FDA / EPA found to generate fraudulent data back in the 1970s.”

This fact alone, that many studies the government used to approve glyphosate came from IBT, should have been grounds for banning glyphosate.

However, Monsanto plays very sophisticated games of science and power. The company spares no money in influencing politicians of both parties. Its staff would ghostwrite chapters or articles for academics willing to “prove” that glyphosate is not a carcinogen.

Monsanto has been making so much money from glyphosate that it has become paranoid and immoral in its defense of glyphosate. Yet, lucidity sometimes prevails and the truth comes out.

It happened in November 22, 2003. In an email to a colleague, a Monsanto toxicologist, Donna R. Farmer, said: “you cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen.”

She is right. Roundup is a carcinogen. It includes glyphosate, carcinogens like formaldehyde, and other chemicals, some of which may be more toxic than the IBT-tested glyphosate. The pesticides law classifies these toxic materials as “inerts.”

Drain the swamp -- now. No more deception, cover-up and collusion.

The released Monsanto and government documents complement the picture some of us have built of the corruption keeping glyphosate-roundup and other pesticides in business.

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