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A Weed Killer that May be Killing People

Posted by Inna Gorin | Nov 16, 2022

The weed killer Roundup, used to keep lawns weed-free and picture-perfect, may be responsible for causing serious illness and death in people. Studies have found that one of its ingredients, glyphosate, increases the risk of certain types of cancer.

In 2018, a lawsuit about the connection between Roundup and cancer went to trial for the first time. While the research on the causal link between Roundup and cancer continues, more governments and nonprofits are labeling the chemical as a probable cause of cancer.

What You Should Know About a Popular Weed Killer Roundup
There are several lawsuits that claim the popular weedkiller Roundup is causing cancer.

A few years ago, a federal jury ordered Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, to pay $80 million to a man with cancer who used the product over 30 years on his property in Sonoma County, California. The jury said that Roundup was a “substantial factor” in his illness. Monsanto appealed this decision.

More recently, a California jury in San Francisco reached a similar verdict against Monsanto in favor of a groundskeeper with the same disease, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a potentially fatal immune system cancer.

Monsanto is fighting this verdict, and the judge indicated they might order a new trial regarding the pain and suffering and punitive damages awards.

Many jurisdictions have banned or restricted the use of Roundup. For example, Los Angeles County suspended the use of glyphosate on county property until more is known about its health effects. There are thousands of pending lawsuits against Monsanto by plaintiffs who claim that Roundup caused their injuries.

Notably, the Environment Protection Agency approved the popular herbicide Roundup, classified as safe in many studies. However, other studies suggest a link between exposure to the weed killer and certain forms of cancer, including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL).

NHL is a cancer of the body's lymphatic system. Some common symptoms include swollen lymph nodes in the neck or underarms, coughing, sweating, fatigue, chest pain, skin lesions, and weight loss. Several types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma exist, and it might respond to different treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation.

What is Glyphosate?

The pesticide glyphosate first came into use in the 1970s. It helps control weeds and has proven useful in agriculture. In the intervening decades, scientists and consumers have raised concerns about the safety of long-term exposure to the chemical.

While the EPA, as of 2020, still lists glyphosate as safe, California includes it on the Proposition 65 list as a carcinogen.

One warning the EPA does include for the pesticide is that it has a negative impact on animals and insects. The EPA is working to limit spray drift and protect certain species, such as the monarch butterfly, from exposure.

The extent to which glyphosate and Roundup, in general, are a danger remains open to debate. One of the difficulties of establishing such causal links is that, in modern life, people are exposed to dozens of chemicals daily. Moreover, not everyone exposed to a specific chemical will face a cancer diagnosis or reduced life expectancy.

Monsanto has since sold the rights to Roundup to Bayer, who maintains that the chemical is safe and necessary for agriculture and outdoor maintenance.

Johnson v. Monsanto

Multiple lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto and now Bayer regarding the safety of glyphosate and its link to cancer. The first of these lawsuits to proceed to trial was Johnson v. Monsanto in California.

Dewayne Johnson had been a school groundskeeper for two years when he was diagnosed with terminal non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2014. A married father of three, accidents at work resulted in Johnson's body and clothes being soaked in Roundup.

Johnson v. Monsanto Co.

After one event, he developed a rash that evolved into lesions all over his body. He twice contacted Monsanto to ask if his skin condition could be related to his use of the weed killer. The company never replied. In June 2016, Johnson filed a lawsuit against Monsanto. Over two years later, the case went to trial in June 2018.

During the trial, internal documents from Monsanto indicated the company believed a “probable link” existed between Roundup and cancer. However, Monsanto continued to maintain the product was safe for the public.

Other evidence at trial indicated that Monsanto had considered ghostwriting scientific papers that stated glyphosate was safe. The company had also contemplated ways to discredit agencies that declared the weed killer a probable human carcinogen.

The trial court initially awarded Johnson $289 million in damages. After appeals, the amount was eventually reduced to $21 million. The appeals court agreed with the trial court that Monsanto was liable for failure to warn but disagreed on awarding future noneconomic damages.

What's a Safe Level of Exposure?

While people regularly exposed to the chemical, such as groundskeepers and gardeners, are more likely to contract cancer or suffer other health issues, research indicates most people consume trace amounts of the weed killer in food.

The EPA states that the exposure amount is low enough to be safe for human consumption. However, an environmental group raised concern in 2019 over the amount of glyphosate in processed foods.

The Environmental Working Group issued a report that says the amount of glyphosate in some products exceeds what they believe is healthy for children. The study found that 21 cereals sampled contained glyphosate and four in amounts that exceeded the EWG's safe for children.

The EWG sets a significantly lower glyphosate dietary exposure limit than the EPA or proposed California standards. Although considerably lower than either government amount, the EWG recommendation would still allow the equivalent of consuming two cups of cereal without concern. Most cereals have a serving size of around one cup.

What is the Future?

In Spring 2022, a Canadian filmmaker released a documentary about Johnson's lawsuit and subsequent victory. Research about glyphosate continues to evolve as scientists conduct more research.

In California, plaintiffs have two advantages when filing a lawsuit regarding exposure to Roundup. One, the state considers it a chemical under Proposition 65. The Johnson v. Monsanto decision created a legal precedent for these lawsuits. Contact our injury lawyers for a free case evaluation. The Injury Justice Law Firm is located in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Inna Gorin

Inna Gorin, the founding Partner of Injury Justice Law Firm modeled the Firm after her ideals and principles of what skilled, aggressive and tenacious representation of individual clients should embody. Ms. Gorin's mission is to level the playing field, and provide her clients with the same level...


If you have been injured in an accident, our experienced Los Angeles personal injury attorneys will protect your legal rights and help you recover compensation for your injuries. We are available 24/7 for your risk free initial consultation in Beverly Hills, Encino, Glendale, Hermosa Beach, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Marina Del Rey, Redondo Beach, Torrance, Santa Monica, San Fernando Valley, Valencia and Ventura County areas.