The first glyphosate lawsuit against agribusiness giant Monsanto got underway last week in a federal court in San Francisco. This week, the plaintiff, 46-year-old Dewayne Johnson, took the stand to give a first-hand account of how glyphosate exposure has literally destroyed his life. Johnson, a former groundskeeper for a Bay Area school district, is dying from a form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) and is not expected to live much longer. He filed suit against Monsanto in 2016 following his diagnosis.
Johnson began working for the Bernicia Unified School District in 2012. According to his testimony, he was accidentally drenched in the glyphosate-containing herbicide Roundup due to equipment malfunction on two occasions while carrying out his grounds keeping duties. In September 2013, a little over a year after Johnson started the job, he noticed an unusual rash on his knee. When he was examined in an emergency room after a serious automobile accident, the rash was diagnosed as squamous cell carcinoma, a common type of skin cancer.
That specific form of cancer has not been linked to glyphosate exposure. Johnson went to Dr. Ope Ofodile, a dermatologist. She in turn referred Johnson to other specialists for treatment. However, the rash failed to respond. Over the next six months, more rashes and lesions began to appear. Dr. Ofodile told the court, “[Johnson] had new lesions and was headed in the wrong direction.”
Eventually, Johnson was diagnosed with NHL. Understandably concerned, Johnson contacted Monsanto on numerous occasions, but received no response. Despite his growing illness, he continued his work with Roundup. Brent Wisner, counsel for the plaintiff, said, “If they just would have called him back, he would have stopped spraying, but his cancer got worse and worse and worse and during that time he was spraying.”
While using Roundup, Johnson took all recommended precautions, wearing a mask and goggles, as well as chemical-resistant coveralls and gloves. He was aware of wind conditions while working with the chemical. Nonetheless, he continued to suffer exposure because of “drift.” During his testimony on Monday, he said, “You were getting it in your face every day...it was kind of unavoidable.” Johnson also testified that there were no shower facilities at his place of employment, so glyphosate remained in contact with his skin throughout his working day.
Monsanto continues to insist that there is no scientific evidence for glyphosate’s carcinogenicity and maintains that Johnson’s cancer was not caused by their product. However, it has been classified as a “probable carcinogen” by the World Health Organization. Monsanto also recently lost a legal battle when an appellate court sided with the State of California, allowing it keep glyphosate on its list of substances known to cause cancer.
Dewayne Johnson's case is the first of over 400 cases currently pending against Monsanto that have been consolidated before U.S. District Judge Vincent Chhabria. While Judge Chhabria says the scientific evidence linking glyphosate exposure to NHL is “weak,” he acknowledges that it is “admissible.” The present trial is scheduled to continue until mid-August when counsel for both sides will present their closing arguments.