A new analysis of more than 50 previously secret, corporate-backed scientific studies is raising troubling questions about a history of regulatory reliance on such research in assessing the safety of the widely used weedkilling chemical known as glyphosate, the key ingredient in the popular Roundup herbicide.
In a 187-page report released on Friday, researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria said a thorough review of 53 safety studies submitted to regulators by large chemical companies showed that most do not comply with modern international standards for scientific rigor, and lack the types of tests most able to detect cancer risks.
For years, the people of Mead, Nebraska, have worried about the ethanol plant that moved into their small rural community a little over a decade ago. They feared the terrible smells and odd illnesses in the area might be connected to the plant and its use of pesticide-coated seed corn in its biofuel production process.
Those concerns recently turned to outrage and anger after environmental regulators were forced to acknowledge that under their oversight the AltEn LLC ethanol plant has been contaminating the area with an array of pesticides at levels much higher than what is considered safe.
The contamination has been ongoing for years, exacerbated through accidental spills and leaks of the plant’s pesticide-laden waste, which has been stored in poorly maintained lagoons and piled into hills of a putrid lime-green mash called “wet cake”. The company had also distributed the waste to area farmers for spreading across fields as “soil conditioner”.
It was only earlier this year – after media reports exposed the problems – that state officials ordered the plant to close, and began efforts to clean up what many in the community see as a sprawling environmental disaster.
The state attorney general’s office then sued the company for multiple alleged environmental violations, citing “an ongoing threat to the environment”, and late last month Nebraska lawmakers passed a bill restricting the use of pesticide-treated seeds for ethanol production.
Residents of Mead say the crackdown on the plant is welcomed, but, in many respects, is far too late. The lingering impact of the pollution won’t simply end with the new law, nor will many of the industrial agriculture practices that caused it. Instead, the pollution continues to wreak havoc and there are fears that Mead’s trauma may be repeated in other small towns across the state where large-scale industrial agriculture practices continue.