June 18 marked a milestone for former California school groundskeeper DeWayne “Lee” Johnson and thousands of other cancer patients who are suing Monsanto over herbicide Roundup, claiming the popular weed killer caused them to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That was the day that Johnson’s case, the first such lawsuit, finally went to trial.
Johnson allegedly applied hundreds of gallons of Roundup – at least 20 to 30 times per year during his career as a pest manager for the school district in Benicia, California. After being diagnosed with cancer in 2014, Johnson underwent chemotherapy, but his oncologist gave him just six months to live.
Believing that long-term exposure to Roundup led to his deadly cancer, Johnson filed a product liability lawsuit against Monsanto in 2016, although his doctors didn’t believe that Johnson would live long enough to testify in court. But because California has the authority to grant dying plaintiffs expedited trials, he is finally getting his chance.
The questions that the court in DeWayne Johnson v. Monsanto Company, et al will soon attempt to answer are these: Does Roundup cause cancer and if so, did Monsanto fail to warn consumers about the weed killer’s cancer risk? There does not appear to be a conclusive answer, however.
A March 2015 review of the weed killer conducted by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health stated that glyphosate (brand name Roundup) is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” In July 2017, glyphosate was added to California’s list of chemicals known to cause cancer, according to the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA).
According to Monsanto, no regulatory agency in the world considers glyphosate to be a carcinogen, and the company cites more than 800 scientific studies to back up its claim, including the U.S. Agricultural Health Study, which is the largest study of the real-world use of pesticide formulations and health risks ever conducted. Published in November 2017 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI), the study followed the population that uses the most glyphosate products (farmers and growers) for 20 years and found no link between the use of formulated glyphosate products and cancer.
The National Pesticide Information Center has said that studies on cancer rates in humans have produced “conflicting results on whether the use of glyphosate-containing products is associated with cancer,” but admits that “some studies have associated glyphosate use with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”