A San Francisco jury has found in favor of a school groundskeeper dying of cancer whose lawyers argued that a weed killer made by the agribusiness giant Monsanto likely caused his disease.
In its decision on Friday, the jury awarded the plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson, nearly $290 million in damages.
Johnson's lawsuit against Monsanto was the first case to go to trial in a string of legal complaints alleging the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup causes non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Johnson sprayed Roundup and another Monsanto product, Ranger Pro, as part of his job as a pest control manager at a San Francisco Bay Area school district, his attorneys have said.
RELATED: Things in your home that can cause cancer
Things in your home that can cause cancer
Things in your home that can cause cancer
Your big, comfy couch
Your favorite sofa could be killing you, and not just because it lures you away from activity: Many sofas, mattresses, and other cushioned furniture are treated with TDCIPP, a flame retardant known to cause cancer (i.e., a carcinogen). TDCIPP was used so frequently prior to 2013 that a study out of Duke University found it in the blood of everyone they tested. It's also one of ten chemicals most frequently found in household dust, according to this study.
Cadmium is a carcinogenic byproduct of cigarette smoke. If you smoke in your house, cadmium and other cigarette smoke by-products may be lurking, especially on soft surfaces such as curtains and carpet—even long after the smell of smoke is gone. There's even such a thing as third-hand smoke and it's resistant to even the strongest cleaning products. Here's where you can learn more about third-hand smoke and its dangers.
Chromium (VI) is a known carcinogen found in tanned leather, wood furniture, certain dyes and pigments used in textiles, and cement. To give you an idea of the prevalence of chromium VI, one study out of Denmark found that almost half of imported leather shoes and sandals contained some level of the carcinogen.
What can you do?
As with TCIPP, pay attention to labeling. And don't be shy about asking questions of your furniture salesperson.
Wear gloves when working in the garden, and always wash up before heading inside. Additionally, avoid backyard burning of household trash.
Your old fridge
According to cancer.org, carcinogenic PCBs can turn up in old appliances, fluorescent lighting fixtures, and electrical transformers. While no longer commercially produced in the United States, PCBs are still manufactured and used in developing countries, and of all PCBs ever produced, up to 70 percent are still in the environment. Diet is another major source of exposure, according to Gushée.
What can you do?
Get rid of those old appliances and fluorescent light fixtures. Pay attention to advisories regarding PCB-contaminated fish and fish-eating wildlife.
Your cleaning products
Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen found at home in food, cosmetics, a variety of cleaning products (such as dishwashing liquids, fabric softeners, and carpet cleaners), paint, foam insulation, and on permanent press fabrics. In addition, you can be exposed by breathing smoke from gas cookers and open fireplaces.
The dry-cleaning chemical perchloroethylene (tetrachloroethylene or "perc") is a carcinogen that can build up wherever you store your dry-cleaned clothes. It's also found in spot removers, shoe polish, and wood cleaners.
Phthalates are suspected of causing cancer and may adversely affect human reproduction or development. They're found in vinyl flooring, shower curtains, synthetic leather, miniblinds, wallpaper, and anything made with PVC vinyl. They're also found in food packaged in plastic.
Everyone knows arsenic is poisonous, but in smaller doses, it's also carcinogenic. Yet you can find it in foods you probably eat regularly—including chicken, rice, and certain fruit juices, as well as in degreasing products, dyes, furniture wax, glues, lubricants, nylon, and paints.
Asbestos has been out of favor for decades, thankfully, but you can still find it in the insulation of older homes. As the insulation eventually deteriorates, asbestos fibers become airborne. Since asbestos fibers stick to clothing and shoes, workers exposed to asbestos on the job can also bring asbestos into their homes.
Styrene is a known carcinogen widely used in the manufacturing of polystyrene plastics, which can be made into foam and rigid plastic products such as cups, plates, trays, utensils, packaging, and packing peanuts. Styrene may leach into your hot coffee or soup if you're using styrofoam containers. It's also present in cigarette smoke and in all of these home maintenance, automotive, and crafting products. What can you do? Avoid using styrofoam to hold hot foods and liquids, and read your product labels carefully. Find out the 12 foods you should never microwave.
Pantry pests and other creepy crawlies can carry disease. But if you eliminate them using chemical pesticides, you're increasing your risk of cancer. Chemical pesticides include those that you use on your pets, such as flea collars and tick-repellant.
Radon is formed naturally from the radioactive decay of uranium in rocks and soil. It raises the risk of lung cancer—especially if you also smoke, says Ashley Sumrall, MD, FACP, a Charlotte-based oncologist. If you live in an area where the amount of uranium and radium in rocks is high, you can be exposed to radon through cracks in your foundation. You can also be exposed to radon if you have a granite countertops.
He developed a bad rash and was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2014 when he was 42. Johnson, who is now 46, did not answer calls requesting comment on the verdict.
The jurors at San Francisco's Superior Court of California, who deliberated for nearly three days, found that Monsanto failed to warn Johnson and other consumers about the risks posed by its weed-killing products.
They awarded Johnson some $250 million in punitive damages and $33 million in compensatory damages.
"The jury found Monsanto acted with malice and oppression because they knew what they were doing was wrong and doing it with reckless disregard for human life," said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a member of Johnson's legal team, according to the Associated Press.
"This should send a strong message to the boardroom of Monsanto."
Monsanto, for its part, vehemently denies a link between glyphosate and cancer, frequently pointing to studies that have found the active ingredient in Roundup is safe.
"We are sympathetic to Mr. Johnson and his family," Monsanto vice president Scott Partridge said in a statement after the verdict. He claimed there were "800 studies and reviews" that "support the fact that glyphosate does not cause cancer, and did not cause Mr. Johnson's cancer."
"From a purely scientific point of view I do not think that the judgment makes sense," said Paul Pharoah, professor of cancer epidemiology at the University of Cambridge. "The epidemiological evidence that glycophosphates are associated with an increased risk of lymphoma is very weak."
The outcome of the trial will not have a direct affect on the slew of other Roundup-related suits in state and federal courts. But it could serve as a bellwether for other cases in the queue.
Monsanto said that it plans to appeal the decision.