On Monday, an Alameda County jury awarded more than $2 billion to a Livermore couple over claims that Monsanto failed to warn them that using the popular weedkiller Roundup would increase their risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a claim the company and the EPA both deny. It’s the third victory in a year for California patients arguing Roundup gave them cancer. And it’s a foreboding sign for Monsanto’s parent company, Bayer AG, which faces at least 13,400 similar cases in state and federal courts.
Alva and Alberta Pilliod are on the front lines of a massive battle pitting thousands of plaintiffs against the international conglomerate, which has seen its value plummet since buying Monsanto last year. Many of those cases will be heard in Northern California.
Hundreds of lawsuits filed by California residents have been moved to Alameda County, where a major Roundup distributor is based, in an effort to streamline the crush of trials. In March, in the first of thousands of federal cases, a jury in San Francisco unanimously awarded $80 million to Edwin Hardeman of Sonoma County over allegations Roundup was a significant factor in his developing cancer. The judge ordered the company to open settlements talks before further federal trials proceed.
Although the EPA has determined that glyphosate — the main ingredient in Roundup — does not pose a human health hazard, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer disagrees, announcing in 2015 the chemical is a likely carcinogen. The state of California followed the agency’s lead in 2017, mandating that glyphosate products carry a Proposition 65 warning as a possible cancer-causing agent.
“Up until 2015, there were a lot of confusing statements from Monsanto and other glyphosate manufacturers saying there wasn’t a connection with non-Hodgkins lymphoma,” said Michael Baum, co-lead counsel on the Pilliod case. He has also been involved with organizing the other Roundup lawsuits in California and federal courts. The IARC decision was a catalyst for many of the ongoing lawsuits, Baum said.
Last year, in the first major California jury decision over Roundup cancer risks, Dewayne Johnson, a school groundskeeper in Benicia, was awarded $289 million in San Francisco Superior Court. A judge later reduced that to $78 million. His trial was expedited because he has terminal cancer, as was the Pilliods’, due to their ages and the severity of Alberta Pilliod’s diagnosis.
Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, is by far the most common weedkiller in the United States, and possibly in the world.
Bayer, which argues there is no evidence their products cause cancer, is also facing pressure abroad over their products. In January, a French court outlawed the sale of Roundup Pro 360, a new entry to the Roundup line, ruling the country’s food and environmental safety agency failed to vet it appropriately before approving its sale.
Bayer’s value has declined 40% since it bought Monsanto last June, due in large part to the risks posed by the wave of suits.