A Lander man filed a federal lawsuit against agricultural chemical giant Monsanto on Friday, alleging the company’s Roundup weedkiller caused or contributed to his developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The suit, filed by Jackson attorney Jason Ochs, joins a recent wave of litigation against Monsanto alleging that Roundup causes cancer. In August, a jury in San Francisco found the weedkiller at least contributed to a former groundskeeper’s diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The case was reportedly the first involving Roundup to go to trial, and the jury awarded $289 million to the groundskeeper (that figure has since been reduced by a higher court. Monsanto is also appealing the verdict).
The success of that suit has triggered even more litigation. Reuters wrote in August that Monsanto was facing roughly 8,000 lawsuits related to Roundup. Other media reports place the number closer to 10,000.
In the Wyoming case, Ochs’ client, Jace Florquist, regularly used the weedkiller around his property from 2008 to 2014 and was exposed to it beforehand by his neighbor’s use. He was diagnosed with cancer in July 2015, which “was proximately and actually caused by exposure to Defendant’s Roundup products,” the suit alleges.
The complaint further claims that Monsanto has been aware of Roundup’s carcinogenic risks since the 1980s. The suit notes that the Environmental Protection Agency listed the herbicide as being possibly carcinogenic to humans “with limited evidence of carcinogenicity” and claims the EPA dropped that classification later after pressure from Monsanto.
In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer determined that glyphosate — the active ingredient in Roundup — was probably carcinogenic.
Monsanto has repeatedly denied that Roundup causes cancer or that the company hid any carcinogenic properties present in glyphosate. In a statement to the Star-Tribune, a spokeswoman for the company reiterated that stance Friday.
“Glyphosate-based herbicides have been used safely and successfully for over four decades,” spokeswoman Charla Lord wrote in an email. “There is an extensive body of scientific data and analysis, including in-depth reviews by regulatory authorities in the U.S. and EU, and approvals in 160 countries, which support the conclusion that glyphosate-based products are safe when used as directed. Bayer stands behind these products and will vigorously defend them.”
Bayer acquired Monsanto in 2018.
In a statement to USA Today after the San Francisco jury returned a verdict against the company, a vice president for Monsanto said more than 800 studies found the chemical did not cause cancer.
Ochs’ and Florquist’s lawsuit rejects the company’s suggestion that the weedkiller is safe.
“Defendant made these statements with complete disregard and reckless indifference to the safety of Plaintiff and the general public,” the suit claims. “Notwithstanding Defendant’s representations, scientific evidence has established a clear association between glyphosate and genotoxicity, inflammation and an increased risk of many cancers, including, but not limited to, (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma), Multiple Myeloma and soft tissue sarcoma.”
Ochs said in an interview that a jury should decide the safety of the chemical and the legitimacy of the science around the issue, “not the company that has a stake in the outcome from a financial perspective.”
There has been significant fighting between Monsanto and people suing it over what scientific evidence should be considered in court. The company has faced accusations that it ghostwrote or otherwise tried to sway studies, and a judge in another Roundup lawsuit ruled just last month that evidence the company had attempted to influence those studies could be shown in court.
In September 2018, Critical Reviews in Toxicology — a journal on the health risks of chemicals — issued a correction on a study about glyphosate because the journal determined Monsanto was involved in the work and the author did not disclose that involvement.
The same judge who ruled that evidence could be presented in court presided over the trial that saw the $289 million loss for Monsanto. In that case, the judge said there was “rather weak” evidence that glyphosate caused cancer, though he said three experts who linked the two were not pushing “junk science,” according to USA Today.
Monsanto previously sued the state of California after its Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment added glyphosate to a list of chemicals that caused cancer. The company lost, appealed, and lost again.
Ochs’ suit appears to mirror the efforts of the successful litigation in its attempt to show that Roundup allegedly causes cancer and that Monsanto allegedly knew about it and hid that information.
The attorney said he didn’t want to comment about whether the lawsuit would prompt more Wyomingites to come forward with allegations against Monsanto related to Roundup.