A San Francisco jury ordered chemical giant Monsanto to pay $289 million in damages Friday to a school groundskeeper who got terminal cancer after using Roundup, one of the world’s most popular weed killers.

The Superior Court jury deliberated for two and a half days before finding that Dewayne Johnson’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma was at least partly due to using glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Roundup. Johnson regularly used glyphosate to spray fields while working as a groundskeeper.

Monsanto “acted with malice, oppression or fraud and should be punished for its conduct,” Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos announced in court. 

Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s vice president, said in a statement that the company will appeal the decision.

‘We are sympathetic to Mr. Johnson and his family,” Partridge said. But the court decision “does not change the fact that more than 800 scientific studies and reviews . . . support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr Johnson’s cancer.”

He said Monsanto will “continue to vigorously defend this product, which has a 40-year history of safe use and continues to be a vital, effective, and safe tool for farmers and others.”

Hundreds of lawsuits claiming Roundup causes cancer have been given the green light to proceed to trial, despite Monsanto claims that there is no connection between glyphosate and cancer.

Cancer victims and families presenting cases say Monsanto knew about the ingredient’s risk for years, but failed to warn buyers. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria had previously said there’s “rather weak” evidence the ingredient causes cancer, but the opinions of three experts linking glyphosate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma were not “junk science.”

Johnson’s doctors testified he is unlikely to live past 2020. The 46-year-old Bay-area resident worked for a California county school system and applied the weed killer up to 30 times per year as part of his pest-control responsibilities. During that time, he mixed and sprayed hundreds of gallons of the chemical.

“Today the jury confirmed what we have known since our investigation began — that Monsanto knew Roundup contained cancer-causing ingredients and failed to take this product off the shelf and protect consumers. The company chose corporate profit and greed above humanity,” said Micah Dortch of the Potts Law Firm in Dallas. Although not involved in the just-concluded trial, the firm represents more than 100 clients currently with similar claims.

In the past, Monsanto sued California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment for adding glyphosate to a list of cancer causing chemicals, and lost.

There is conflicted evidence linking glyphosate and cancer.  

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has gone back and forth on considering glyphosate a possible carcinogen. In a review of the chemical last year, it concluded glyphosate is likely not a carcinogen. But, the World Health Organization has classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic.” 

The verdict drew applause from environmental groups Friday. 

“Monsanto made Roundup the oxycontin of pesticides and now the addiction and damage they caused have come home to roost,” said Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group, a U.S. environmental organization that researches toxic chemicals and advocates for corporate accountability. “This won’t cure DeWayne Lee Johnson’s cancer, but it will send a strong message to a renegade company.”

 

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