Increasingly, society is coming to the inescapable conclusion that issues pertaining to race, economic justice, health, and the environment are inextricably linked. This is illustrated in a report from the Center for Biological Diversity, which found that over half of glyphosate-containing herbicides used in California are sprayed in the state's eight poorest counties. Furthermore, the majority of the people (53%) who live and work in these counties are Hispanic.
The report, entitled “Lost in the Mist,” was published in November of 2015. At that time, the Center's analysis showed that two years earlier, there was an estimated 88 pounds of glyphosate used on every square mile of farmland in the counties in question, six of which are located in California's Central Valley.
That amounts to 54% of all glyphosate used in the state. At the time, a staff scientist with the Center described it as “a disturbing trend where poor and minority communities disproportionately live in regions where glyphosate is sprayed.” In light of growing evidence of the dangerous health risks associated with glyphosate, the scientist, Dr. Nathan Donley, pointed out that “California can't, in good conscience, keep allowing these communities to pay the price for our over-reliance on pesticides [sic].”
Overreliance is putting it mildly. Since its introduction in the 1970s, the use of glyphosate has increased exponentially. At the same time, this has led to the evolution of glyphosate-resistant “superweeds,” which in turn cause farmers to increase their use of the herbicide, resulting in an upward spiral.
In the meantime, farm workers who have suffered cancer, neurological injuries, and other illnesses attributable to glyphosate exposure began filing lawsuits against Roundup manufacturer Monsanto in September 2015, only six months after the World Health Organization announced that it would be classifying glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Since that time, over 700 additional lawsuits have been filed. According to prominent environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who currently represents 136 plaintiffs in a case filed in St. Louis, that number could eventually reach 3,000 or more. He says, “We're bringing the lawsuit to address the injuries that have been caused by Roundup and glyphosate to mainly farmers and farm workers,” but adds that people who maintain home gardens as a hobby may also be affected.
In the meantime, Latino farmworkers are not the only low-income people to be affected by glyphosate. A recent article in The Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin, reported that the use of pesticides and herbicides in the city's public parks and green spaces has “gotten out of hand.” Environmental activist Maria Powell points out, “It is an environmental justice situation, because you’ve got a lot of kids, a lot of minority kids, a lot of low-income kids, and no one is bothering to inform them or their parents that these chemicals have been used there and they should stay away.”
Despite powerful evidence of glyphosate toxicity, increasing resistance on the part of local governments and communities and the growing number of lawsuits, Monsanto and its handmaidens at the Environmental Protection Agency are continuing to defend the product. The question of whether they will be able to maintain their defense of an indefensible product will be answered in the coming months as cases come before judges and juries.