In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reported a startling finding: Glyphosate — the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup and the most-used agricultural chemical in history — “probably” causes cancer in humans.
Specifically, the IARC found that there was evidence that glyphosate causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the disease-fighting lymphatic system that claims more than 20,000 American lives every year.
Although the IARC’s findings are disputed, they are supported by multiple studies, have been accepted by some government agencies, and form the basis of a growing number of lawsuits against Monsanto. This article takes a closer look at non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the link between it and Roundup, and the lawsuits that link has inspired.
What causes lymphoma?
The lymphatic (or “lymph”) system in the human body is a critical component of the body’s immune system. Lymphatic vessels carry lymphocytes throughout the body. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell — the blood cells that fight off infections and disease. The lymphatic system also helps to remove toxins and waste from the body.
Unfortunately, like other parts of the body, the lymphatic system is susceptible to cancer. Cancer that originates in the lymphatic system is known as lymphoma. Broadly speaking, there are two major types of lymphoma:
- Hodgkin Lymphoma, which features a particular type of mutated cell known as a Reed-Sternberg cell and progresses through the lymphatic system in an orderly fashion.
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, which progresses in a non-orderly way through the lymphatic system.
Of these two types, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the most common. In 2014, nearly 67,000 people were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and more than 20,000 died from it. In contrast, fewer than 9,000 individuals were diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, and the cancer was responsible for just over 1,000 deaths.
The causes of lymphoma are not yet fully understood by scientists. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list the following as potential causes:
- Infection with HIV or certain other types of viruses.
- Exposure to ionizing radiation.
- Family history.
- Some ingredients used in herbicides and pesticides.
That last cause is where Roundup comes in.
Monsanto Roundup Cancer Claims
Roundup is an herbicide manufactured by Monsanto. It is used by farmers to kill the weeds that would otherwise damage their crops. Introduced in the 1970s, Roundup proved so effective that Monsanto had to develop genetically engineered Roundup Ready crops that wouldn’t be killed by their own popular herbicide.
The active ingredient in Roundup is glyphosate, a synthetic chemical that interferes with plants’ production of certain proteins they need to survive. However, Roundup also includes several supposedly inert ingredients. Monsanto has tried to keep secret what those additional ingredients are.
The problem is, several studies have indicated that glyphosate — either on its own or in conjunction with Roundup’s other ingredients — increases the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
In April 2014, a meta-analysis (a survey of past studies) published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found a positive relationship between glyphosate and B cell lymphoma, the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
That finding was strengthened a year later when the IARC concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Other studies have called into question the links between glyphosate on its own and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Most recently, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published a study concluding that there was no link between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. (However, the study did find a non-statistically significant link between glyphosate and acute myeloid leukemia, another type of cancer.)
The conflicting studies have not prevented individuals and governments from taking action against Monsanto, Roundup, or glyphosate. For example, since mid-2017, glyphosate is one of the chemicals “known to the state of California to cause cancer.” Late last year in Europe, European Union regulators considered whether to ban glyphosate, eventually deciding to permit its use for another five years. Finally, many Americans around the country have filed lawsuits against Monsanto alleging that exposure to Roundup gave them cancer, and that Monsanto never warned them of that risk.
See also: Mesothelioma Lawsuits in Ohio
The Roundup Lawsuits
By late 2016, about two dozen lawsuits had been filed against Monsanto alleging that it had failed to warn users of the risk that Roundup could cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Recall that failure to warn about a product’s risks is one basis for product liability lawsuits in Ohio and elsewhere.
In cases with common, complex questions of fact pending before multiple courts, federal law provides a process to streamline pre-trial proceedings. The plaintiffs in the Roundup lawsuits asked the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to authorize their use of that process and centralize the cases in one federal district court for pre-trial purposes.
In response, the JPML ordered the cases to be centralized in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California before Judge Vince Chhabria. Today, that multidistrict litigation (or MDL) has grown to more than 300 lawsuits. They remain before Judge Chhabria, who is currently guiding the parties through the discovery process.
Have you been injured by Monsanto Roundup?
Although the link between Roundup and non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other cancers is disputed, it does have the backing of strong scientific evidence. If you have been exposed to Roundup and later diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, understand that you are not alone. Already more than 300 lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto for failing to warn of the risk of cancer.
If you believe you have developed cancer as a result of your exposure to Roundup, you should consult one of the experienced product liability attorneys of Dyer, Garofalo, Mann & Schultz. We offer a free case review to help you determine what legal remedies may be available for your injuries.