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On August 10, a San Francisco Superior Court jury awarded a former school groundskeeper $289.2 million in a lawsuit against agricultural giant Monsanto. Dewayne “Lee” Johnson worked for the Benicia Unified School District, about 40 miles east of the city, and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using.
Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer in the course of his employment.This is the first verdict handed down in a wave of litigation against the company; according to the New York Times, Monsanto is facing over 5,000 similar lawsuits in the United States.
According to Bloomberg, Johnson mixed and sprayed hundreds of gallons of Roundup over the course of his career as a groundskeeper. His exposure included accidents, at least one of which left him “soaked from head to toe” in the herbicide.Johnson was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, and in July 2017—following chemotherapy and other treatments his oncologist delivered news that he would likely only live another six months. Johnson’s attorneys and doctors have stated, in court filings, that he has improved since starting a new drug treatment in November, but is still too weak on occasion to even speak or get out of bed. According to testimony from a January 2018 deposition, over 80 percent of his body was covered by lesions.
Johnson’s lawsuit largely focused on glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Roundup, the world’s most widely used herbicide. Glyphosate was originally approved in 1974 for use in Monsanto’s weed killer, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency initially classified the chemical as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” in 1985.
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That classification was changed in 1991, and a December 2017 EPA Draft Risk Assessment for Glyphosates further concluded that “glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” The EPA’s assessment, however, stands in stark contrast to a 2015 determination from of the cancer agency for the World Health Organization’s (WHO), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which found that glyphosate was likely carcinogenic.In March 2017, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.
OEHHA posted a notice on its website that glyphosate would be added to the list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer. Despite delays due to the pending case Monsanto v OEHHA, glyphosate was officially added to the Proposition 65 list on July 7, 2017.
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