A jury at the Superior Court of California in San Francisco has ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million in damages to Dewayne Johnson, a former groundskeeper who says the herbicide and pesticide giant failed to warn consumers that its products could cause cancer.
Johnson worked as a groundskeeper at a California school in San Francisco and first filed the case two years ago in California, a state where dying patients may be given expedited trials. In court records obtained by CNN, Johnson’s attorneys said he applied Roundup 20 to 30 times each year for work and was twice accidentally soaked with weed killer. The first accident happened in 2012, and two years later he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects the body's lymph system. Lesions now cover as much as 80 percent of his body, and some days he is too crippled to speak. Although his two sons may soon know life without their father, Johnson’s attorney says it will help them live more comfortably.
Thousands of people in several states have filed similar suits against the agricultural giant, claiming Monsanto did not properly warn of glyphosate’s carcinogenic properties. Numerous studies have indicated as such, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer, under the World Health Organization, who wrote in a 2015 paper that the agent is “probably carcinogenic to humans”.
Monsanto has long argued there is no proof glyphosate is carcinogenic, citing a report conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Assessment Review Committee that says the chemical is “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans” as well as “hundreds of studies” conducted around the world that show glyphosate’s safety. Monsanto said it stands by these arguments and they plan to appeal the court’s decision.
“[The court] decision does not change the fact that more than 800 scientific studies and reviews – and conclusions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and regulatory authorities around the world – support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr. Johnson’s cancer,” said Monsanto Vice President Scott Partridge in a statement.
As reported by New Scientist, there is little evidence that glyphosate on its own causes cancer in humans. Separate reviews by the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency provide further support for the EPA's findings.
Timothy Litzenburg, Johnson’s lawyer, reportedly said it’s not just glyphosate that causes cancer, but rather the interaction between it and other ingredients found in Roundup that creates a “synergistic effect”, making it more carcinogenic – a claim Monsanto has also refuted, despite a 2012 study that found a combination of chemicals in Roundup could cause DNA damage if inhaled. Cancer occurs when a change in DNA takes place, and because previous research has found evidence that glyphosate in high concentrations can damage DNA cells, association have been drawn. However, glyphosate is not one of the chemicals the EPA commonly tests for exposure in humans, so data is relatively limited.
Bayer AG, the parent company that acquired Monsanto earlier this year, saw a more than $11 billion drop in market value on Monday. Though Monsanto sought to have internal records and communications sealed, the judge has allowed many to be released to the public in what is now called the “Monsanto Papers”. These include federal and discovery documents, state court motions and transcripts, as well as the plaintiff's evidence suggesting the glyphosates in weed killers Roundup and Ranger Pro have carcinogenic properties.
Bayer said it plans to change the Monsanto name in a bid to gain back consumer trust.