There is no other more commonly used and highly criticized weed killer in the world than glyphosate-based products (GBP’s, aka Roundup). We have been repeatedly told it causes cancer and is associated with other health maladies while industry vehemently denies the chemical has toxicity.
Recently a person who suffers from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma caused by two accidental exposures to Roundup during his work was awarded $289 million by a California jury by a 12-0 vote. Jurors found that Monsanto had acted with “malice” and that its weed killer contributed “substantially” to this person’s terminal illness. This person was a long time employee of a public school system as the groundskeeper. There are over 4,000 additional plaintiffs in America with similar complaints.
So what economic and legal impacts could the California jury ruling have in Oregon?
In the summer of 2012, a law came into effect that requires Oregon schools to adopt Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plans, emphasizing prevention but allowing the use of “low-impact” pesticides as a last resort, but they are not banned. Oregon’s law also requires schools to notify parents and other members of the school community whenever pesticides are to be used. This is all good. However, the list of weed killers on the “low impact” list contains no fewer than 14 formulations of glyphosate-based pesticides. It also contains 2,4-D and Simazine, which are known endocrine-disrupting pesticides capable of causing severe lifelong neurological diseases and infertility issues.
In March 2015 a panel of 17 scientists unanimously agreed in a study supervised by the World Health Organization that GBPs are probable causes of cancer, specifically non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma based on epidemiology studies in humans. Other scientists from several laboratories have also shown in animals that there are other serious health issues following exposures to minute concentrations of GBPs. Certain formulations of GBPs also contain arsenic, lead and cadmium.
I suggested over a year ago that GBPs be treated as a restricted-use pesticide, requiring training and a state license to apply. Eventually all GBPs should be gradually phased out until/if their safety can be proven with a scientific consensus of agreement. This has not happened.
A lot of scientific knowledge has accumulated in the past six years about our understanding of pesticide toxicities since the state IPM program was implemented. Many chemicals on the Oregon State University “low-impact chemical pesticides” list are now inappropriate and out of date. These pesticides still qualify to be on the “low-impact” pesticide list because of an outdated keyword on the product label that underestimates their true toxicities. The keyword on the label only refers to “short-term” exposure risks, not to the impacts of long-term health effects.
Does Oregon have groundskeepers that have been exposed to glyphosate during their work and had an accidental exposure and contracted non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL)? Is the rate of NHL among school children in Oregon higher than in districts that prohibit GBPs?
The State of Oregon at this moment still allows Roundup and similar toxic chemicals to be used on public school properties under certain circumstances. This is a remarkable oversight that must be corrected immediately, for our children’s sake, for the health of school employees and the rest of the public and for liability reasons as well.
In perhaps the only survey of the state IPM program, 41 percent of the campuses reported no pesticide use in 2014. But only 30 percent of the schools responded. School pesticide surveys should be conducted every two years with results made widely available to the public. It is disappointing that after six years of implementation we apparently have no public records of pesticide use in nearly 90 percent of Oregon’s schools.
Ray Seidler of Ashland is a retired senior research scientist.