Glyphosate through the decades

Posted 4/24/19

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in commercial herbicide Roundup, is the most widely used pesticide in the world. The New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) has been using it to control …

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Glyphosate through the decades

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Glyphosate, the active ingredient in commercial herbicide Roundup, is the most widely used pesticide in the world. The New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) has been using it to control vegetation along state highways, including State Route 97, otherwise known as a Scenic Byway since at least 2003, according to an archived article in The River Reporter.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) advised at the time that glyphosate is not generally active in the soil, has a half-life of three to 130 days and a low potential for leaching. USFS also said, in humans, “The Roundup formulation is moderately toxic and may cause skin irritation and eye irritation” and is “moderately to slightly toxic to freshwater fish and aquatic invertebrate animals.”

As it turns out, at least two juries believe it also is a contributing factor to causing non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a group of blood cancers. The first trial in San Francisco ended in August 2018 in the case of school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson, who developed NHL after using Roundup on a regular basis. He sprayed 150 gallons of Roundup on the grounds up to 30 times a year for four years. The jury in that case ordered the company that manufactures Roundup to pay Johnson $239 million. A judge later lowered the amount to $78 million.

A separate San Francisco jury on March 27 awarded a 70-year-old man named Edwin Hardeman more than $80 million after he, too, developed NHL, after using Roundup to control weeds on his property for more than 20 years.

The German-based Bayer AG, which purchased Monsanto in a deal that was completed in June 2018, insists its product is safe. It issued a statement after the second verdict, saying, “We are disappointed with the jury’s decision, but this verdict does not change the weight of over four decades of extensive science and the conclusions of regulators worldwide that support the safety of our glyphosate-based herbicides and that they are not carcinogenic.”

But others say Bayer is not being truthful. “Clearly, the testimony that informed the jury’s decision was Bayer-Monsanto hiding Roundup’s carcinogenic properties, manipulating the science and cozying-up with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) so it would not have to warn consumers of its dangerous product,” said Environmental Working Group (EWG) President Ken Cook. “Bayer-Monsanto has known for decades the cancer-causing properties of Roundup, and I applaud the jury for holding the company accountable for failing to warn consumers of the known danger.”

And it’s hardly the last case likely to go before a jury. Some 11,000 lawsuits have been filed regarding Roundup worldwide. A third case involving Alva and Alberta Pilliod shows that glyphosate-based herbicides cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the type of cancer suffered by the named plaintiffs, was due to begin in May. But the judge halted that trial and instead ordered Bayer and the lawyers representing hundreds of the cases to try to move closer to a settlement. The judge in that case wrote, “The parties should propose a mediator in their case management statement; if they cannot agree, the Court will appoint someone.”

Meanwhile, the use of glyphosate has been so widespread that it is found in much of the food people eat. A post on the website of the EWG (www.bit.ly/

TRRrounduprisks) says, “Two separate rounds of laboratory tests commissioned last year by EWG found glyphosate in nearly every sample of popular oat-based cereals and other oat-based food marketed to children, including several by General Mills and Quaker. These are the foods children love to eat, making breakfast products likely one of the major sources of their exposure to glyphosate.”

EWG says contamination of food can be dangerous to humans if the glyphosate exists at a concentration of 160 parts per billion. Bayer supporters point out the level considered safe by the EPA is up to 30 parts per million, which is far lower than the level pointed to by EWG.

But the real question should be, why should anyone have to accept ingesting any amount of glyphosates, which were developed specifically to kill living things?

Growing numbers of countries, states and municipalities are considering bans on glyphosates. A ban has been introduced in the NYS Senate and would phase out the use of the herbicide.

 It may be that glyphosates will spell out the end of Bayer AG. Before buying Monsanto last year for $63 billion, executives at Bayer thought that they were adding a valuable component to their global conglomerate. Since then, Bayer’s stock price has dropped some 40%, largely because of the verdicts regarding Roundup.

In the meantime, NYDOT is still using it to control weeds on State Route 97.

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