The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Jury Finds Monsanto Liable in the First Roundup Cancer Trial – Here’s What Could Happen Next
By Richard G. "Bugs" Stevens
In the first of many pending lawsuits to go to trial, a jury in San Francisco concluded on Aug. 10 that the plaintiff had developed cancer from exposure to Roundup, Monsanto's widely used herbicide, and ordered the company to pay US$289 million in damages.
The plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson, had used Roundup in his job as groundskeeper in a California school district. He later developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The jury awarded Johnson $39 million in compensatory damages to cover pain, suffering and medical bills due to negligence by Monsanto, plus an additional $250 million in punitive damages.
This means the jury wanted to punish Monsanto because members believed the company deliberately withheld from the public scientific knowledge that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, was a cancer danger. The size of the damages awarded indicates that the jury was not persuaded by Monsanto's expert witnesses.
Product liability lawsuits are an important part of American culture. There are many examples of companies knowingly adding toxic agents to their products. So there must be a process for aggrieved individuals who have been harmed to hold these companies accountable.
On the other hand, a lawsuit can be brought against any company for any reason, and some may be frivolous. It is an unfortunate comment on our health care system that so many people are uninsured, and if struck by a dreaded disease, must seek money to deal with it somehow from somewhere.
In many instances it is simply unknown whether a product and its contents are a danger. This verdict is just the first in what could be a long legal battle over Roundup, and proving causality in such cases is not easy. But here are some observations from my own experience trying to help figure out why people get cancer.
How Credible is the Scientific Case Against Roundup?
Much of the plaintiff's case was based on a widely criticized 2015 statement by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, that glyphosate was a "probable human carcinogen" (Group 2A on its scale). A classification of "human carcinogen" (Group 1) means that a panel of scientists convened by the IARC believes the agent is a cancer hazard to humans, like smoking and ionizing radiation. The 2A classification is not as strong. It means that there is credible evidence, but it does not reach the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt."
The IARC's process for determining carcinogenicity has come under heavy criticism before. In particular, in the early 2000s some observers worried that industry was actually influencing the agency to downgrade its classification of chemical agents. In the Roundup cases, the accusation against the IARC cuts the other way. According to some accounts, it was biased against industry and sought a harsh classification for glyphosate.
The IARC has provided a detailed defense of its process in the glyphosate evaluation. It has also published a monograph on glyphosate with all the gory details of the science behind its evaluation.
I served on a monograph working group in 2007 for an IARC assessment of whether shift work was a potential cancer hazard. I have also participated in three other meetings sponsored by IARC over the years, so I have seen the agency's process up close. In my view, IARC personnel go to great lengths to ensure objectivity and scientific rigor.
This does not mean that their classifications are the last word. In fact, the agency has often changed its classification of an agent based on new evidence after initial evaluation. Sometimes it has become more certain that the agent poses a hazard, but in other cases it has downgraded the hazard.
What Path for Glyphosate?
Glyphosate and Monsanto could follow the path of the Johns-Manville company, which started manufacturing asbestos products in the 1880s. After many epidemiological studies showed that exposure to asbestos caused very high rates of lung cancer – primarily pleural mesothelioma – and much litigation, the company went bankrupt in 1982. Its assets were reorganized to form the Manville Trust, which allocates monetary damages to people harmed by asbestos.
Some products still contain small quantities of asbestos today, including motor vehicle parts and fireproof clothing. The Environmental Protection Agency tried to ban it in 1989, but was overturned by a federal court. Nonetheless, because asbestos is so clearly linked to cancer, most companies avoid it now for fear of liability.
Alternatively, glyphosate may follow the route of saccharin, an artificial sweetener discovered in the late 1870s. In 1970 scientists reported that saccharin caused bladder cancer in rats, which led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to propose a ban on this extremely popular product in 1977.
However, after much more research—including toxicology in rats and epidemiologic studies in people—the IARC downgraded saccharin from a classification of "2B: possible human carcinogen" to "3: not classifiable," and the U.S. National Toxicology Program removed saccharin from a 2016 report on carcinogens. As it turned out, the mechanism for causing bladder cancer in rats did not apply to people, and epidemiological studies showed no association.
A 1946 advertisement suggested that cigarettes were safe by showing a doctor smoking. Scientific evidence later showed that heavy smoker had 10 to 20 times higher risk of developing cancer than non-smokers. SRITA, CC BY-ND
Monsanto will undoubtedly appeal this initial decision, and it could be years before the issue is settled once and for all. But with this verdict, the onus is now on Monsanto to provide compelling evidence that Roundup is safe in other trials that soon will follow.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Tuna auctions are a tourist spectacle in Tokyo. Outside the city's most famous fish market, long queues of visitors hoping for a glimpse of the action begin to form at 5 a.m. The attraction is so popular that last October the Tsukiji fish market, in operation since 1935, moved out from the city center to the district of Toyosu to cope with the crowds.
gmnicholas / E+ / Getty Images
Kristan Porter grew up in a fishing family in the fishing community of Cutler, Maine, where he says all roads lead to one career path: fishing. (Porter's father was the family's lone exception. He suffered from terrible seasickness, and so became a carpenter.) The 49-year-old, who has been working on boats since he was a kid and fishing on his own since 1991, says that the recent warming of Maine's cool coastal waters has yielded unprecedented lobster landings.
The climate crisis is getting costly. Some of the world's largest companies expect to take over one trillion in losses due to climate change. Insurers are increasingly jittery and the world's largest firm has warned that the cost of premiums may soon be unaffordable for most people. Historic flooding has wiped out farmers in the Midwest.
Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.
'We Should Be Retreating Already From the Coastline,' Scientist Suggests After Finding Warm Waters Below Greenland
By Johnny Wood
The Ganges is a lifeline for the people of India, spiritually and economically. On its journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, it supports fishermen, farmers and an abundance of wildlife.
The river and its tributaries touch the lives of roughly 500 million people. But having flowed for millennia, today it is reaching its capacity for human and industrial waste, while simultaneously being drained for agriculture and municipal use.
Here are some of the challenges the river faces.
By Jake Johnson
As a growing number of states move to pass laws that would criminalize pipeline protests and hit demonstrators with years in prison, an audio recording obtained by The Intercept showed a representative of a powerful oil and gas lobbying group bragging about the industry's success in crafting anti-protest legislation behind closed doors.
Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.
AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.
"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."
Big Oil is now using its political power to try and criminalize protests of oil & gas infrastructure.— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 19, 2019
"This legislation has potential to punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment."https://t.co/bmiHjONEhy
The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.
"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.
As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."
"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."
Many of the state bills restricting the right to protest have been "drafted by companies and passed through groups like ALEC, the secretive group of corporate lobbyists trying to rewrite state laws to benefit corporations over people." @greenpeaceusa https://t.co/ZxpTjWdrwT— Stand Up To ALEC (@StandUpToALEC) May 6, 2019
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.