The first case involving claims that a Monsanto herbicide causes cancer is currently underway in San Francisco. The setting for the trial is fitting, as California lists glyphosate as a carcinogen under its Proposition 65 law.
DeWayne Johnson, a former school groundskeeper diagnosed with terminal cancer, alleges he developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after being exposed to glyphosate, a popular herbicide chemical.
Johnson was employed by the Benicia Unified School District from 2012 until May 2016. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2014, and with a more aggressive form of the disease in March 2015.
Even after the more serious diagnosis in 2015, Johnson continued to spray a concentrated, Monsanto-made brand of glyphosate called Ranger Pro until he became convinced that the product was behind his cancer diagnoses, at which point he refused to spray it in his final months at the school.
Johnson’s case is the first of about 4,000 nationwide against Monsanto (now acquired by Bayer) awaiting trial.
In early July, the judge overseeing Johnson’s case, U.S. District Judge Vincent Chhabria, stated that plaintiffs had presented enough evidence “from which a reasonable jury could conclude that glyphosate can cause NHL at human-relevant doses,” and said that he would allow cases involving more than 360 plaintiffs before him go to trial. 
There has been much debate over the safety of glyphosate, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) deemed “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015, outraging Monsanto. 
Monsanto disputed the IARC’s classification and points out that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has never classified glyphosate as a carcinogen or restricted its use. However, even this claim is not without controversy, as it came to light in early 2017 that an EPA official allegedly worked with the agritech giant to kill a study showing that glyphosate causes cancer.
A Deadly Job Opportunity
Johnson was originally employed by Benicia as a delivery driver but later applied to become the district’s first pest-control manager, passing a licensing exam that allowed him to take the job. At first, Johnson said he “liked the job a lot.”
The district instructed him to use Ranger Pro instead of Roundup on school grounds because Roundup wasn’t strong enough to remove all the weeds from the hillsides owned by the district. As long as he wore long-sleeved shirts, pants, shoes, and socks, he would be safe, a supervisor told Johnson.
Johnson took additional measures to protect himself, donning a sturdy jacket, rubber gloves, goggles, and a face mask while he mixed Ranger Pro in with water in 50-gallon drums and sprayed it 20 to 30 times a year for 2-3 hours a day, mostly during the summer.
But it was impossible to keep the glyphosate concoction from blowing into his face, and on 2 occasions, he got drenched in the herbicide. The first time occurred when a spray hose became detached from a truck that was hauling it; the second time the chemical somehow leaked onto Johnson’s back. Because he was at work, he couldn’t take a shower to wash off the chemical until later in the day.
After the first time Ranger Pro spilled on Johnson, the groundskeeper developed skin rashes and put in a call to the Monsanto hotline.
Johnson said from the witness stand:
“I had this uncontrollable situation on my skin, which used to be as perfect as this table.”
He pointed to the brown witness stand for reference.
He went on:
“It was a very scary, confusing time.”
During cross-examination, Monsanto lawyer Sandra Edwards suggested that something other than exposure to glyphosate caused the rashes, and asked Johnson about remarks he had made to doctors stating that the rashes began in the autumn of 2013, before he was accidentally exposed to high levels of glyphosate.
“It’s hard to remember all that way back.”
His wife defended his memory lapse, telling the court that it had become a regular thing since his diagnosis.
Offense Meets Defense
But Johnson’s lawyer, Brent Wisner, claimed that Monsanto knew about the risks associated with glyphosate exposure and failed to warn the public. 
“There is absolutely no evidence that he had any deformities or problems with his skin prior to using Roundup.”
According to Monsanto:
“The scientific evidence is overwhelming that glyphosate-based products do not cause cancer and did not cause Mr. Johnson’s cancer.”
Dr. Ope Ofodile, a dermatologist who coordinated Johnson’s medical treatment at Kaiser Health Care in Vallejo from 2014 through mid-2016, testified on behalf of her patient, telling jurors that the man was seen in her office more than 25 times. During one visit, Ofodile said she removed one of his lesions and administered radiation. In 2015, she wrote a letter to the school board asking them to stop exposing Johnson to airborne chemicals. 
“He was not responding (to treatment). He was heading in the wrong direction, but he was very much motivated to get better.”
Johnson also has the support of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who has been attending the trial. The environmentalist lawmaker and son of the late Bobby Kennedy is part of a legal team with cases pending against Monsanto. 
“I think it’s a company that is essentially bad for families, bad for farmers, and for our food supply.”