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Corrupt politics, not science, power the US EPA

From Evaggelos Vallianatos, The New Lede
May 2024

It’s been 10 years since my book came out, and from all appearances, little has changed inside the EPA. We need an EPA to work for us.... Don’t elect politicians funded by the industry who support pesticides or say climate change is a hoax. Put the health of nature next to your health.

Evaggelos is a former EPA program analyst.

Environmental Protection Agency

When I started my job in the Office of Pesticide Programs at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1979, many things quickly surprised and disappointed me – a pattern that persisted through my 25-year career there.

The first thing that astonished me was the scandal that came to light with the giant Industrial Bio-Test Laboratories (IBT). People would whisper in the corridors about fake lab studies. They would wonder aloud about the safety of our food. IBT was the country’s largest testing lab for drugs and pesticides, conducting toxicology studies for companies such as Monsanto until investigators discovered widespread fraudulent manipulation of test data. The US Department of Justice successfully prosecuted multiple IBT officials for fraud, and has caught others who similarly engaged in fraud to ensure approvals for risky products.

I learned the IBT story from Adrian Gross, a colleague in the EPA Office of Pesticide Programs. (Gross died in 1992.) We spent hours talking about the science and political corruption that often accompany the regulation of pesticides. Gross would speak of “cut-and-paste” science, in which studies the EPA relied on included passages simply copied from materials developed by the companies seeking approval to sell their risky products.

Over the time I worked at the EPA, I became convinced that the agency was serving industry much more than the public. My attempts to discuss concerns with supervisors made no difference, save for intensifying hostility toward me.

A “Poison Spring”

The victims of the compromised regulation are the farmers who become addicted to using pesticides that come with risks to their health. I discuss that madness in the 2014 book I wrote on the EPA, Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA.

Cancer from pesticides has been the greatest nemesis of industrialized farmers. In August 1980, researchers from the University of Iowa School of Medicine the Medical University of South Carolina reported to EPA that they had observed in a study of Iowa farmers “a greater frequency among white male farmers” of cancers of the stomach, prostate, bone and connective tissue, leukemia, lymph tissue and multiple myeloma (bone marrow). Iowa farmers compared to non-farmers came down with stomach cancer at a rate 75% more; prostate 76% more; bone and connective tissue 77% more; leukemia 42% more; lymph tissue 42% more; and multiple myeloma at a rate of 108% more. In general, Iowa farmers, and by extension, all farmers using pesticides are dying from cancer at twice the rate affecting the rest of the population.

These deadly trends continue. In its Iowa Report, 2024, The Iowa Cancer Registry says that the cancer rate in Iowa is the “second highest and fastest rising” in the country.

The more bushels of corn and soybeans the farmers of Iowa produce, the more cancer they harvest. The more bushels of corn and wheat and soybeans and fruit the farmers of America harvest, the faster they go to their graves. That is all a secret between them and the professors at the land grant universities, who know about this national and international tragedy but keep tight lips and say nothing.

Add animal farms to the growing of crops addicted to pesticides and you have a toxic kingdom ruling the countryside of America. There are thousands of animal farms feeding and slaughtering about 9 billion hogs, cattle, chicken, and other animals per year. These animal factories are unregulated. They enclose animals like sardines in a can. They are houses of filth, violence, national pollution, and disease.

The unfathomable amount of manure and pollution of animal farms gives rise to viruses that can explode into pandemics. Indeed, in a new book I am arguing that the potential origins of the 2020-2022 pandemic may be in the factories of animals all over America.

Paying a price

I paid a price for serving the public good. Senior officials often made my life miserable. They told me I was not a team player. They were right. I did not hide the truth, that is, the scientific evidence that spraying our crops with neurotoxins and carcinogens was dangerous. It should never happen. But senior officials tried to fire me because I published an article in the Chicago Tribune on October 10, 1989, in which I criticized the fossil fuel industry for causing global warming.

It’s been 10 years since my book came out, and from all appearances, little has changed inside the EPA. We need an EPA to work for us. But to reach that milestone, Americans must create the change by valuing their health and asking where the food they eat comes from. My advice is to eat only the organic food of small family farmers or grow your own fruits and vegetables. Take the political steps to fight the planetary life and death threat from anthropogenic climate chaos. Don’t elect politicians funded by the industry who support pesticides or say climate change is a hoax. Decide to support organic farming. Put the health of nature next to your health.

(Evaggelos Vallianatos, Ph.D., studied zoology and history at the University of Illinois, earned a doctorate in history at the University of Wisconsin, and did postdoctoral studies in the history of science at Harvard. He worked on Capitol Hill and the US Environmental Protection Agency. He taught at several universities and has authored several books, including the 2021 book The Antikythera Mechanism: The Story Behind the Genius of the Greek Computer and its Demise.)

(Opinion columns published in The New Lede represent the views of the individual(s) authoring the columns and not necessarily the perspectives of TNL editors.)

Posted on May 21, 2024
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