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Johnson v. Monsanto: A Case Study on Pesticides and Cancer

“I strongly feel the toxins from pesticides directly caused my cancer or indirectly through its contribution to chronic inflammation.” 

p. 72, From Doctor to Patient

In 2012, Dewayne Johnson started his job as the groundskeeper of a public school district in California. As the groundskeeper, Johnson was responsible for spraying two Monsanto glyphosate herbicides, Roundup and Ranger Pro, at multiple schools and sports fields. Often times, Johnson would spray around 150 gallons of these glyphosate herbicides in a day. Unfortunately, Johnson was entirely unaware of the health risks associated with Monsanto’s herbicides. Just two years after being hired, Johnson noticed lesions, rashes, and irritation all over his body, including his face. He soon learned the cause: cancer – terminal cancer. 

A married father of two young sons, the news was especially hard on Johnson’s family. Johnson’s wife had to pick up a second job, commonly working 14-hour days, on top of being responsible for most of the childcare and household chores. Johnson’s painful cancer often prevented him from walking, spending time in the sun, or even getting out of bed. His pain was so debilitating that he missed his uncle’s funeral, and many important events for his boys. For all of his and his family’s suffering, Johnson was determined to seek justice against the causer of his cancer, the herbicide-selling company Monsanto.  

Johnson v. Monsanto: The Trial

Although there were multiple suits pending against Monsanto, Johnson’s case was expedited considering doctors suspected he wouldn’t live past 2020. In the trial, Johnson shared that he never worried about the risks of spraying Monsanto products, as the products had no warning labels. Additionally, Johnson testified that he followed instructions on the label carefully prior to every use, and even took extra precautions such as wearing protective clothing. After first noticing the irritation on his skin, Johnson called the hotline for Monsanto. The woman on the line promised someone would follow up on his concerns, which never happened. Meanwhile, Johnson continued using the products, unsure if they were really the cause.

Johnson’s attorney, Brent Wisner, arranged compelling expert testimony and brought in never-before-seen evidence against Monsanto. For example, Wisner showed internal company documents that proved Monsanto knew their products had the potential to cause cancer. After three days of deliberation, the jury determined that Monsanto failed to warn Johnson and others of the risks of using their products. In fact, the decision claimed that Monsanto “acted with malice” and that Johnson should be awarded $289 million in damages. However, Monsanto appealed the decision in 2018 and Johnson’s award was reduced to $78 million, which Monsanto appealed again in 2019. Johnson says he just hopes to find a final resolution within his lifetime.

Pesticides and Cancer

During the trial, experts’ opinions conflicted about the relationship between glyphosate and cancer. In 2015, the World Health Organization stated that glyphosate is likely carcinogenic; while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claimed that glyphosate does not cause cancer in 2017. Nonetheless, multiple studies have shown a potential link between glyphosate and cancer, evidence which should not be ignored (Cocco et al., 2013; De Roos et al., 2003; Eriksson et al., 2008; Hardell et al., 2002; McDuffle et al., 2001; Orsi et al., 2009; Samsel & Seneff, 2015; Vazquez et al., 2017). Exposure to other types of pesticides has also been associated with increased risk for certain cancers (Alvania et al., 2013). 

Author Dr. Diva Nagula was diagnosed with the same type of cancer as Dewayne Johnson – non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In his book “From Doctor to Patient,” Dr. Nagula considered a possible link between his own cancer diagnosis and pesticide exposure. He explained how excessive pesticide exposure overwhelms the immune system, preventing it from protecting the body against harmful pathogens. Further, Dr. Nagula noted a link between pesticide exposure and chronic inflammation, which can cause cancer itself over time. To avoid pesticides, Dr. Nagula recommends reducing consumption of foods grown with heavy pesticide use such as wheat, corn, and soy. 


To learn more about Dr. Nagula’s cancer journey, along with health tips and interesting cancer research, check out his book here: https://www.amazon.com/Doctor-Patient-Healing-Cancer-through-ebook/dp/B081PG4P87/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=


References

Alavanja, M. C., Ross, M. K., & Bonner, M. R. (2013). Increased cancer burden among pesticide applicators and others due to pesticide exposure. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians63(2), 120-142.

Avila Vazquez, M., Maturano, E., Etchegoyen, M. A., Difilippo, F. S., & Maclean, B. (2017). Association between cancer and environmental exposure to glyphosate.

Cocco, P.; Satta, G.; Dubois, S.; Pili, C.; Pilleri, M.; Zucca, M.; Mannetje, A.M.; Becker, N.; Benvente, Y.; deSanjose, S.; Foretova, L.; Staines, A.; Maynadie, M.; Nieters, A.; Brennan, P.; Miligi, L.; Ennas, M.G.; Boffetta, P. Lymphoma risk and occupational exposure to pesticides: results of the Epilymph study. Occup. Environ. Med. 2013, 70, 91–98.

DeRoos, A.J.; Zahm, S.H.; Cantor, K.P.; Weisenburger, D.D.; Holmes, F.F.; Burmeister, L.F.; Blair, A. Integrative assessment of multiple pesticides as risk factors for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma among men. Occup. Environ. Med. 2003, 60, E11.

Eriksson, M.; Hardell, L.; Carlberg, M.; Akerman, M. Pesticide exposure as risk factor for non-Hodgkin lymphoma including histopathological subgroup analysis. Int. J. Cancer. 2008, 123, 1657–1663.

Hardell, L.; Eriksson, M.; Nordstrom, M. Exposure to pesticides as risk factor for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and hairy cell leukemia: pooled analysis of two Swedish case-control studies. Leuk. Lymphoma. 2002, 43, 1043–1049.

McDuffie, H.H.; Pahwa, P.; McLaughlin, J.R.; Spinelli, J.J.; Fincham, S.; Dosman, J.A.; Robson, D.; Skinnider, L.F.; Choi, N.W. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and specific pesticide exposures in men: cross-Canada study of pesticides and health. Cancer Epidemiol. Biomarkers Prev. 2001, 10, 1155–1163.

Orsi, L.; Delabre, L.; Monnereau, A.; Delval, P.; Berthou, C.; Fenaux, P.; Marit, G.; Soubeyran, P.; Huguet, F.; Milpied, N.; Leporrier, M.; Hemon, D.; Troussard, X.; Clavel, J. Occupational exposure to pesticides and lymphoid neoplasms among men: results of a French case-control study. Occup. Environ. Med. 2009, 66, 291–298.

Samsel, A., & Seneff, S. (2015). Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases IV: cancer and related pathologies. J. Biol. Phys. Chem15, 121-159.

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