A California man dying of cancer was awarded $289 million after a jury ruled that a popular weed killer product gave him cancer.
DeWayne Johnson, a groundskeeper at a San Francisco Bay Area school district, sprayed large quantities of the product, sold under the brand name Roundup, from a 50-gallon tank attached to a truck during gusty winds. He said the product would often cover his face, and one time, when a hose broke, his whole body was covered.
According to his attorneys, Johnson read the label and even contacted the company after developing a rash but was never warned it could cause cancer. In 2014, at the age of 42, he was told he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
A spokesman for Monsanto, the company behind Roundup, said the agribusiness will appeal the ruling. Monsanto has denied a link between the active ingredient in Roundup — glyphosate — and cancer, saying hundreds of studies have established that glyphosate is safe, reports The Guardian.
“We are sympathetic to Mr. Johnson and his family,” Monsanto spokesman Scott Partridge said. “We will appeal this decision and continue to vigorously defend this product, which has a 40-year history of safe use and continues to be a vital, effective and safe tool for farmers and others.”
George Lombardi, an attorney for the company, also argues that Johnson’s illness takes years to develop, so it must have started well before he began working at the school district.
Nevertheless, jurors in State Superior Court ruled in favor of Johnson, convinced that the product contributed to his cancer and that the company should have provided a label warning about the potential health hazard.
He was awarded $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages.
The Environmental Protection Agency has said that Roundup’s active ingredient is safe for people when used in accordance with label directions, but the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, classified it as a “probable human carcinogen” in 2015. California added glyphosate to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer.
Monsanto is facing heat after a widely used weed killer that’s been linked to cancer has turned up in nearly every common food in the US, according to a report.
Scientists with the Food and Drug Administration found glyphosate, which has been used as an herbicide since the 1970s, in everything from corn to honey, granola, wheat crackers and oatmeal, The Guardian said, citing records it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“There’s a fair amount in all of them,” FDA chemist Richard Thompson wrote to colleagues in a January 2017 email that was among the records.
The FDA has been testing how prevalent glyphosate is in foods for two years but hasn’t released official results.
Linda Birnbaum, a toxicologist and director of the US National Institute of Environmental Health Services, said even a small exposure to pesticides can be dangerous.
“Even with low levels of pesticides, we’re exposed to so many, and we don’t count the fact that we have cumulative exposures,” Birnbaum told the Guardian.
Thompson, who works out of an FDA laboratory in Arkansas, wrote that broccoli was the only food that he had “on hand” that didn’t show any traces of the herbicide.
Another FDA chemist, Narong Chamkasem, found “over-the-tolerance” levels of glyphosate at 6.5 parts per million in corn, the Guardian reported. The legal limit is 5.0 parts per million.
But an FDA supervisor wrote to an Environmental Protection Agency official in an email that the corn was not considered an “official sample” – meaning that the shocking example wouldn’t be reported to the EPA.
Chamkasem also found traces of glyphosate in honey and oatmeal products. The FDA temporarily suspended testing after those findings and reassigned Chamkasem’s lab to “other programs,” the Guardian said.
An FDA spokesman told the Guardian that the agency has not found any illegal levels of glyphosate in corn, soy, milk or eggs – the four commodities part of its glyphosate “special assignment” — in its official samples.
The FDA noted that Chamkasem’s results of glyphosate in honey and oatmeal were not part of its assignment.
Farmers are able to kill weeds without destroying their crops thanks to glyphosate, which is found in Monsanto Company’s popular Roundup brand of weed killer. More than 200 million pounds of Roundup are used each year on fields in the US.
The herbicide is sprayed directly on some crops, including corn, soybeans, wheat and oats and used by spinach and almond farmers before growing season.
In December 2017, the EPA concluded that glyphosate “is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”
“The agency’s assessment found no other meaningful risks to human health when the product is used according to the pesticide label,” the agency said on its website.
But Monsanto is currently facing more than 400 lawsuits in San Francisco by plaintiffs who claim the chemical causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company covered up the risks, according to nonprofit watchdog group US Right to Know.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
August 15th, 2018