A Santa Fe County man has joined hundreds of other plaintiffs around the nation who are suing agricultural products giant Monsanto, claiming they got cancer from using Roundup, a weedkiller the company has hailed for decades as being as “safe as table salt.”
The complaint says Edwin Slominski, 84, of Edgewood “avoided most pesticides and herbicides out of concern they could be toxic.” But beginning in 2000, Slominski’s suit says, he used 3 or 4 gallons of Roundup a year to kill weeds in his driveway.
Roundup was supposed to be harmless to humans, according to his complaint, filed last month in the U.S. District Court. “The truth, however, is far more insidious. The active chemical in Roundup, glyphosate, is a carcinogen, and Monsanto has known this fact for decades,” he says in the suit.
In 2015, after 15 years of using the herbicide, Slominski says he was diagnosed with diffuse B-Cell Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that has affected his stomach and other body parts.
Slominski, who declined to be interviewed for this story, is one of about 800 people nationwide who have filed lawsuits against Monsanto since 2015. That’s when the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which describes itself as “the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, released a report stating that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
The group reported “there was limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” but it cited a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report that found “sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity” in experimental animals and concluded the chemical “also caused DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells.”
Slominski’s attorney, Albert N. Thiel Jr. of Albuquerque, said most of the lawsuits have been consolidated in a multidistrict litigation, a process used to to speed the handling of complex cases involving numerous plaintiffs. Discovery proceedings could begin in December.
At issue in a complex scientific case will be a straightforward question: Does glyphosate cause cancer?
Monsanto, the world’s largest producer of herbicides containing the substance, says it does not.
Charla Lord, a spokeswoman for the company, said in an interview that the substance has been the subject of more than 700 studies during the past 40 years.
“Not a single one found any association between glyphosate and cancer in any form. Not a single one,” she said.
Scott Partridge, vice president of global strategies for the multibillion-dollar company, attacked the integrity of the International Agency for Research on Cancer. He said “French activists” who compiled the report weren’t objective in their review and that members of the agency had conflicts of interest because they were paid to testify in court for plaintiffs in glyphosate cases.
Partridge said he sympathizes with people suffering from cancer who have been led by lawyers to believe their illness was caused by Roundup. But, he said, there is no scientific research to support that claim.
Thiel said he expects Monsanto to fight the lawsuits “tooth and nail” because of profits the company makes selling both the herbicide and seeds for crops that the company has genetically modified to produce plants that are immune to the herbicide’s effects.
“Politically, they’ve spent bazillions,” Thiel said. “There is just too much money [involved] for them to lay down and stop using it. I expect it will be a pretty long-term fight.”
Thiel said the lawsuits against Monsanto likely will take years to resolve. He speculated the company might be inclined to drag the cases out, waiting for the plaintiffs to die in hopes that their relatives will dismiss their claims in return for settlement checks.
Lord said “no regulatory company in the world” considers glyphosate a carcinogen. Still, some jurisdictions have regulated the sale, use and advertisement of the herbicide.
According to Slominski’s lawsuit, the New York attorney general filed a lawsuit against Monsanto over its “false and misleading advertising of glyphosate-based products” as early as 1996. That suit challenged the company for public claims that its spray-on herbicides, including Roundup, were “safer than table salt” and “practically non-toxic” to mammals, birds and fish. Monsanto agreed to modify its advertising in New York, according to the complaint, but didn’t change it elsewhere.
In 2009, Slominski’s suit says, “France’s highest court ruled that Monsanto had not told the truth about the safety of Roundup” and affirmed an earlier judgment that Monsanto had falsely advertised Roundup as “biodegradable.”
Since the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s report in 2015, Slominski’s suit says, France has banned the private sale of glyphosate, and Colombia and Sri Lanka have banned the use of glyphosate.
Governments in the United States have taken different tacks.
In late 2015, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment listed glyphosate as an agent “known to the state to cause cancer.”
The following year, Taos County commissioners discussed a ban on herbicides, including glyphosate, but decided against it, in part to avoid the possibility of having to defend against lawsuits from manufacturers such as Monsanto.
Now some Eldorado residents are upset that the active ingredient in Roundup recently was sprayed on walking and bike trails in the subdivision.
Millie McFarland, a retired schoolteacher, said the Eldorado Community Improvement Association posted a notice on its website. But “if you don’t happen to go there, you won’t even see it.”
McFarland, a cancer survivor, said she was alerted to the plan to spray by her acupuncturist, who told her about California listing glyphosate as a known carcinogen.
Association General Manger Isabel Ugarte did not respond to messages seeking comment. A man who answered the phone at the association said a product had been recently applied on the trails, but it was not Roundup.
The association’s website said the name of the herbicide applied to the trails was LESCO Prosecutor, a trademarked product that was 41 percent isopropylamine salt of glyphosate.
An updated post said “the trails are now safe for use since it has been more than six hours after application, and the products have fully dried.”