Glyphosate scandal exposes need to ‘regulate the regulators’, says IUF

The campaign to stop glyphosate reauthorisation in the European Union failed, “but it succeeded brilliantly in exposing the agrochemical industry’s grip on the regulatory agencies tasked with protecting public health and the environment,” global food and farming union IUF has said.

An IUF briefing notes: “In the wake of the Monsanto Papers revelations and effective campaigns channelling public outrage over the EU’s farcical reauthorisation of the world’s most widely used herbicide, the European Parliament last year established a Special PEST Committee to examine the procedures under which pesticides are authorised for use in the European Union.

The PEST Committee’s report, released in December 2018 and approved by an overwhelming cross-party majority of the parliament on 16 January, catalogued the multiple failures of the authorisation process”.

The IUF briefing noted the scandal’s continuing ‘aftershocks’ have had a positive effect, with the EU Council and parliament on 11 February agreeing more rigorous risk assessment procedures. “The new procedures, if followed through on, mark a significant, if partial and preliminary, success for the glyphosate campaign,” it notes. “They fall short of the PEST recommendations (and the European Citizens’ Initiative demands), but can be a lever for prying loose the pesticide lobby’s hold on the public regulatory agencies.”

The briefing concludes: “A window has been opened; the pesticide lobby will be working intensely to slam it shut. Now is the time to step up organising on the broadest possible basis at national, European and international level for an immediate ban on the most toxic agrochemicals, targeted reductions in pesticide use and comprehensive support for a transition to socially and environmentally sustainable agriculture.”

Glyphosate cancer risk confirmed in new study

A new scientific analysis of the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate herbicides, the most widely used weed killing products in the world, has found that people with high exposures have a 41 per cent increased risk of developing a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The evidence “supports a compelling link” between exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides (GBH) and increased risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), the authors concluded. Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG face more than 9,000 lawsuits in the US brought by people suffering from NHL who blame Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides for their diseases.

The first plaintiff to go to trial, former schools groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson, won a unanimous jury verdict against Monsanto in August 2018, a verdict the company is appealing. The next trial, involving a separate plaintiff, is set to begin on 25 February, and several more trials are set for this year and into 2020.

The new analysis is a blow for Monsanto, which has criticised the probable cancer rating given to glyphosate by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. “This paper makes a stronger case than previous meta-analyses that there is evidence of an increased risk of NHL due to glyphosate exposure,” said Lianne Sheppard, a co-author of the new paper and a professor in the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences department at the University of Washington. “From a population health point of view there are some real concerns.”

In addition to looking at the human studies, the researchers also scrutinised other types of glyphosate studies, including many conducted on animals. “Together, all of the meta-analyses conducted to date, including our own, consistently report the same key finding: exposure to GBHs are associated with an increased risk of NHL,” the scientists concluded.

28 April dangerous substances and work cancers campaign theme confirmed

Global union confederation ITUC has confirmed the theme for International Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April 2019.

‘Taking control – removing dangerous substances from the workplace’ will be this year’s focus for what has become the world’s largest annual health and safety event. The union-led campaign will emphasise a ‘Zero Cancer’ approach, urging reps to seek to eliminate or minimise exposure to carcinogens in the workplace.

ITUC says it will be developing resources ahead of the event to support union preparation of campaign materials. It adds that new resources and events will be featured on the regularly updated dedicated www.28april.org webpages. It is urging organisations to use the hashtag #iwmd19. ITUC is also highlighting key existing resources:

The high profile event, which in 2018 saw tens of thousands of activities in over 70 countries, has ‘trended’ on twitter in recent years.

 

Till receipts expose retail workers to ‘mindboggling’ cancer chemical dose

Retail workers are being exposed to “worrying” levels of BPA and BPS – hormone disrupting industrial chemicals that have been linked to diabetes, obesity, ADHD and breast and prostate cancers – by simply handling thermal paper receipts, a study by Environmental Defence Canada (EDC) has found.

“These slips of paper are covertly exposing cashiers to worrying levels of hormone disrupting BPA and BPS every day,” Muhannad Malas, toxics programme manager at EDC, said in the study. “But it doesn’t have to be this way.”

For the first-of-its-kind experiment, Malas, EDC toxics programme director Sarah Jamal and two other volunteers handled receipts, tickets and passes printed on thermal paper and then conducted urine tests to show how easily BPA – short for “bisphenol A” and commonly found in thermal paper – can be absorbed through the skin. They also handled thermal paper coated with BPS, or bisphenol S, which several companies have switched to in light of BPA-related concerns, though some scientists warn it could have similar negative health effects.

The team at EDC found that BPA levels in their bodies rose up to 42 times higher than a pre-exposure baseline and BPS levels increased by up to 115 times. The findings were “mindboggling”, Malas said.

The results have also worried union leaders representing retail workers. “I mean a lot of them don’t even know that these chemicals exist,” United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada health and safety representative Mary Shaw told CTV News. “They are not being informed by their employers either which is incredibly frustrating.”

The union has suggested that cashiers wear protective gloves until safer alternatives to thermal paper receipts are introduced. That stance was even espoused in the autumn 2018 edition of ‘Checkout,’ UFCW Canada’s news magazine. The European Union has already taken action, banning the use of BPA in receipts from next year.

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EU glyphosate reprieve based on report that used Monsanto text

European regulators based a decision to relicense the controversial weedkiller glyphosate on an assessment large sections of which were lifted directly from industry documents, according to a report for the European parliament.

A crossparty group of MEPs commissioned an investigation into claims that Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) copy-and-pasted tracts from studies by the pesticide manufacturer Monsanto. The investigation found “clear evidence of BfR’s deliberate pretence of an independent assessment, whereas in reality the authority was only echoing the industry applicants’ assessment.”

Molly Scott Cato, a Green MEP, said the findings published on 16 January 2019 were “extremely alarming”, adding: “This helps explain why the World Health Organisation assessment on glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen was so at odds with EU assessors, who awarded this toxic pesticide a clean bill of health, brushing off warnings of its dangers.”

The investigation found plagiarism in 50.1 per cent of the chapters assessing published studies on health risks – including whole paragraphs and entire pages of text.

Simona Bonafé, a member of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament and the shadow rapporteur on the report, said: “The European authorisation procedure for pesticides has clearly shown shortcomings.”

She added: “The glyphosate case must stop being synonymous with the lack of transparency, lack of resources, and private interests overcoming public ones, and instead turn into the example of an opportunity seized by the EU to make human health and the environment a paramount priority. This is what we have strongly fought for, and we will continue to fight for full and decisive implementation.”

In a statement, the BfR rejected any notion of ‘deliberate deception’, saying that its authors had evaluated the relevant industry reports before selecting passages of text to “integrate”. BfR professor Dr Andreas Hensel said: “We often see that the complexity of the conventional procedure for the re-approval of the pesticidal active substances is not understood properly,” adding: “The term ‘plagiarism’ is not relevant in this context.”

A study published this year in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe found almost threequarters of the peer-reviewed papers looked at by WHO’s International Agency for Research on cancer (IARC) found evidence of genotoxicity in glyphosate, compared with just 1 per cent of the industry analyses.

Diesel industry and regulators condemn thousands to die

A warning over 30 years ago that workplace diesel fume exposures were deadly went ignored, a ‘criminal’ move that condemned thousands of workers each year to an early grave, a report in Hazards magazine has revealed.

The report says if the authorities had listened when the workers’ health magazine first raised the alarm in 1986, “today’s diesel exhaust driven public health catastrophe could have been averted.” It notes that diesel exhaust fumes cause, in the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) estimation, 652 deaths a year from lung and bladder cancer. Exposure is also linked to respiratory disease, heart problems and other chronic and acute health effects.

But the Hazards report says “the UK’s prevention strategy – or absence of one – is based on a fatal mixture of a lack of the right intelligence and lack of give-a-damn. All topped up with a dose of industry foul play.”

The report identifies industry-financed groups commissioned to produce reports to cast doubt in the minds of regulators discussing tighter controls and warnings about diesel fume health risks, a process it says is ongoing. Citing international studies, the Hazards also notes that the real UK diesel-related occupational lung cancer toll could be over 1,700 deaths per year, more than 1,000 more deaths each year than the official HSE estimate.

“If you under-estimate the size of the problem, you don’t respond appropriately. Diesel exhaust fume is not treated like a cancer-causing exposure in UK safety law, despite the official recognition it is one of the top occupational cancer killers. There’s not even an official occupational exposure limit,” the report notes.

A forthcoming EU-wide limit is 2.5 times higher than standard recommended two years ago by its own experts, it says. “The evidence didn’t change in the intervening period. But the industry lobbyists took their chance and governments listened.”

An October 2018 TUC guide highlighted successful union initiatives to reduce risks in the workplace from the ‘workplace killer’ diesel exhaust fumes.

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‘Substantial’ payout in asbestos spying scandal

With offices in London, New York, Madrid, Geneva and Los Angeles, K2 Intelligence boasts it “is redefining 21st century corporate intelligence by combining deep subject-matter expertise with cutting-edge technology in an unprecedented way.”

But it’s not above a bit of old-fashioned spying. Which is why, in November 2018, K2 Intelligence found itself paying ‘substantial’ damages to five prominent anti-asbestos campaigners. The confidential settlement came after evidence emerged K2 had orchestrated a covert surveillance operation intended to undermine efforts to ban the deadly fibre.

One claimant, London-based Laurie Kazan-Allen, heads the respected International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS).  She is arguably the lynchpin and most influential figure in the global campaign against the cancer-causing fibre. The four others were Hazards magazine editor Rory O’Neill, along with lawyers Krishnendu Mukherjee and Harminder Bains, and Sugio Furuya, the Japan-based spearhead of Asian Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN).

The campaigners took their legal case against K2, Matteo Bigazzi, K2’s executive managing director in London, and the hired infiltrator, former TV producer Robert Moore. The London high court heard details of ‘Project Spring’, where Moore was paid six figure sums for four years to infiltrate and spy on the campaigners’ anti-asbestos network, including secretly recording phone conversations and meetings.

K2 settled the legal action two years into the court proceedings, by which time the court had already heard the aim of K2’s espionage was to gather information about the campaigners, their methods, funding and future plans.

The majorasbestos producers are Russia, China and Kazakhstan. China uses its production internally. Russia and Kazakhstan, though, are big exporters. Included in K2’s strategy was gaining inside knowledge on chrysotile usage in Thailand and Vietnam, part of the asbestos industry’s Asia frontline where it is pursuing a well-resourced promotional drive. Asia is seen by Big Asbestos as a major developing market and key to its survival.

K2’s clients, which the global surveillance firm had tried strenuously to conceal, were revealed on the instruction of the high court to be Wetherby Select Ltd, a holding company in the British Virgin Islands; and Kazakh asbestos and employers’ lobbyist Nurlan Omarov. Also named as a client was Daniel Kunin, a US national and deal fixer whose mother, Madeleine, has served as a US ambassador and Vermont state governor.

Asbestos spy Robert Moore also targeted top people at the UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO) and its International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). WHO has maintained – contrary to frequent claims from asbestos lobbyists, who claim its expensively concocted asbestos ‘safety in use’ approach is supported by the agency – for over a decade that the only sure way to end the asbestos disease pandemic is to stop its use entirely.

And K2 client Nurlan Omarov, has been a visible lobbyist on the international stage for many years. The Kazakh industry lobbyist and representative of the massive Kostanai asbestos mine has been a repeat member of industry delegations that campaigned successfully to keep chrysotile off the UN’s Rotterdam Convention list of the extremely hazardous substances that require a ‘prior informed consent’ process prior to export.

But someone has to pay the price. Latest statistics suggest that global asbestos mortality could now exceed 300,000 deaths each year. These aren’t ‘good’ deaths. Asbestos deaths are frequently slow and cruel, bodies wracked with pain, choked and suffocated.  They are the true cost of asbestos.

Work cancers cost Europe hundreds of billions a year

Work-related cancers costs between €270 and €610 billion (£240bn to £543bn) a year across the EU, the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) has said.

The trade union health and safety thinktank says occupational cancers are the primary cause of work-related deaths in industrialised societies, with more than 100,000 people losing their lives each year as a result of exposure to workplace carcinogens.

A new book from ETUI, Cancer and work, calculates the human and financial cost of occupational cancers and spells out the steps needed to prevent them. “These cancers are morally unacceptable, as they could easily have been avoided through adequate prevention measures,” said Laurent Vogel, senior researcher at the ETUI and co-editor of the book.

ETUI chemicals specialist Tony Musu, the book’s co-editor, added: “They are also unfair. Exposure to carcinogens at work are the cause of major social inequalities in health in Europe, as in the rest of the world.

Labourers or nurses are much more likely to contract an occupational cancer than engineers or bankers. Indeed, a socio-occupational map can be drawn for the different types of cancer, tracing them back to these social inequalities.”

The problem is not treated with the necessary seriousness, ETUI warns. It says when comparing the research budgets assigned to studying genetic factors and occupational factors, the former has considerable resources allocated to it while the latter has to make do with ‘peanuts’.

 

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Canadian border agents at risk of cancer

Workers guarding the Canada-US border are at a higher risk of developing cancer, according to researchers.

Their report, published online in the peer-reviewed journal New Solutions in November 2018, examined evidence from a workers’ compensation case involving a female border guard who worked for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) on the Ambassador Bridge for 20 years before developing breast cancer.

Both authors of the paper, Jim Brophy and Michael Gilbertson, were expert witnesses in the case. The Ambassador Bridge “is the largest truck-crossing point in the continent… It’s one of the most polluted areas in the country,” said Brophy, a Windsor, Ontario based occupational health expert.

He said the exposure to harmful chemicals like diesel fuel and vehicle exhaust is extremely dangerous for border agents and added many are also exposed to second-hand smoke.

He added the number of border guards who have developed cancer over time isn’t clearly defined, but said that piece of data is something the union Public Service Alliance of Canada is calling for. “Maybe as many as 20 or 30. We don’t know exactly how many. That’s one of the major issues that are facing both the people at the bridge and at the tunnel — and the union,” he said.

Though there’s a “strong scientific case for a causal relationship between occupational exposures of frontline female border guards” and the development of cancer, the report says, the CBSA officer still lost her compensation claim.

Brophy said that’s the result of compensation cases being handled like criminal matters, in which claims are denied if there are any doubts that an employee’s environment resulted in cancer. He said he believes the evidence “points toward the direction that there is an association between these exposures and the risks for this disease.”

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Relief at Canada’s asbestos ban, dismay at exemptions

A nationwide ban on asbestos introduced in Canada has been welcomed by unions and campaigners, however loopholes that allow some asbestos exports and the exploitation of asbestos tailings have caused alarm.

Commenting on the ban, which will come into force on 30 December 2018, Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) president Hassan Yussuff said: “We can all breathe easier. The introduction of these regulations in a timely manner is the result of years of advocacy and hard work by people dedicated to safer, healthier workplaces.

“Today, I celebrate and thank the government for giving the next generation of Canadians a better future, free from the pain and suffering caused by asbestos.”

He added: “We look forward to continuing to work with the federal government on the broader whole-of-government strategy to protect Canadians from the harms of asbestos.”

However, federal environment minister Catherine McKenna faced criticism in parliament on export loopholes and the decision to exempt the processing of asbestos wastes from the ban, in order to recover magnesium. She responded that the ban was “comprehensive” and added: “There is no impact on human health.”

Critics say this is not true. They point out the occupational exposure standard for asbestos to be used on an Alliance Magnesium (AMI) asbestos wastes project, to be run with financial backing from the federal government, is that favoured by the asbestos industry. It allows workers to be exposed to levels of asbestos ten times greater than is permitted anywhere else in Canada or in the western world.

Exposures at even these lower levels are linked to cancer. Internationally acclaimed anti-asbestos campaigner Kathleen Ruff said the government had “succumbed to vested interests,” adding: “I would give them huge credit for finally moving to ban asbestos…  But I’m troubled by the fact that there are these weaknesses and gaps and, if anything, they seem to have gotten worse.”

The asbestos wastes project has also received multimillion-dollar financial backing from the provincial government in Quebec. Both the federal and Quebec governments previously supported the province’s asbestos industry.

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A continually-updated, annotated bibliography of occupational cancer research produced by Hazards magazine, the Alliance for Cancer Prevention and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).