Field worker spray chemicals on crops. Reuters
Lauren Sandford, Tribune News Service
In 2012, Dewayne Anthony Lee Johnson took a job as groundskeeper for a California county school district. “I did everything,” he said in an interview with Time magazine. “Caught skunks, mice, and raccoons, patched holes in walls, worked on irrigation issues.”
He also treated the school grounds with Roundup weed killer, about 20 to 30 times a year and sometimes for several hours a day. On one occasion, the pesticide sprayer broke, drenching Johnson in the herbicide. Afterward, a rash broke out and skin lesions spread across his body.
Several doctor visits later, Johnson learned that he had developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Johnson would go on to sue the pesticide’s manufacturer, Monsanto, and to win a historic judgment last fall. This has set in motion a number of new cases that could hold the company accountable for its product and educate the public on the dangers of its use, with the verdict in the most recent case topping $2 billion.
Roundup uses the active ingredient glyphosate to kill unwanted weeds and grasses. While commonly used by groundskeepers, landscapers and everyday citizens, Roundup became particularly useful in the farming community after Monsanto, its original manufacturer, introduced glyphosate-resistant seeds for genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Glyphosate has long been the subject of debate regarding its effects on human health and safety. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) labeled glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.
Johnson’s lawsuit against Monsanto, filed in 2016, argued that his exposure to Roundup was a significant contributor to his cancer and that Monsanto did not warn users of the potential health effects associated with using the herbicide.
Johnson’s case is just one of more than 13,400 consumer lawsuits against Monsanto and Bayer AG, which acquired the company in 2018. Many of these allege the herbicide is the cause of cancers including non-Hodgkin lymphoma, B-cell lymphoma and leukemia.
Another high-profile case was filed by California resident Edwin Hardeman, who used Roundup since the 1980s and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2015. In late March, a unanimous jury awarded him $80 million. That award is being appealed.
And on May 13, a jury in Oakland, California, ordered Monsanto to pay more than $2 billion in damages to Alva and Alberta Pilliod, a married couple in their 70s who blame their non-Hodgkin lymphoma on their long-term exposure to Roundup. A Bayer spokesman called the verdict “excessive and unjustifiable.”
Meanwhile, Monsanto continues to make millions selling glyphosate, as do other manufacturers. The company insists its product is safe when used as directed. Yet the evidence supporting a potential correlation between the use of glyphosate and various forms of cancer is strong enough to raise concern.
Communities all over the world are moving to prohibit Roundup and other harmful pesticides. Recently, New York City Council Members Ben Kallos and Carlina Rivera introduced a bill that would ban glyphosate from being sprayed in public parks. “Parks should be for playing, not pesticides,” Kallos said in a statement. Additionally, countries including Ireland, France and Brazil have taken steps to ban glyphosate altogether.
In legal circles, Johnson’s case is recognised as a historic win. But this is not an issue that really has winners. Johnson is still desperately ill, and glyphosate is still being manufactured.
The court battles over glyphosate highlight a much larger issue: the ability of ordinary people to hold large corporations accountable. They are inspiring legislation around the globe to protect the health and safety of everyday citizens.
Stress levels and mental health problems are at an all time high as people struggle to accomplish goals and keep up with the demands of our fast-paced world. We need to be aware of this and do whatever we can to bring balance to our lives. This week we look at the best well-being trends of the year so far.
The United States is the only country in the developed world to see an increase in women dying as a result of childbirth. Nearly 1,000 women die each year of pregnancy-related complications — deaths that could likely have been prevented with timely and proper interventions. This issue is particularly troubling for minority women. For every 10 pregnancy-related deaths of white women, 30-40 African-American women will die from pregnancy-related causes. However, efforts are under way, with broad bipartisan support, to tackle these disparities.
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President Donald Trump’s vicious verbal assaults on four women of colour who are members of Congress have sparked an avalanche of well-earned criticism, including from some of his supporters. As regular readers know, I’m fascinated by history, so I’ve been wondering where Trump’s tweeted comments rank among the most racist ones made by presidents (or successful presidential candidates) during my lifetime.
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