“Environmental catastrophe” in Nebraska tied to pesticide-contaminating plant; See regulatory documents regarding AltEn neonicotinoid problems

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(Updated June 10 with state regulatory announcement about seed company clean-up efforts.)

An “environmental catastrophe” unfolding in Nebraska is drawing scrutiny from around the United States and sparking questions about why regulators were unwilling or unable to rein in years of questionable activities by the company known as AltEn LLC.

AltEn has been operating an ethanol plant in Mead, Nebraska, and advertising the plant site as a disposal facility for seeds coated in an array of pesticides known to be dangerous to humans and wildlife.

It has become a common practice by large seed companies such as Monsanto-owner Bayer AG, Syngenta, Corteva and others to sell seeds for growing corn, soy, wheat and other crops that are coated with neonicotinoids and other chemicals designed to help the plants fight off insects and disease.

Disposing of unwanted supplies of these treated seeds can be costly and complicated, so AltEn’s eagerness to take in the coated seed was welcomed by the seed companies.  The companies say they believed AltEn would properly use and/or dispose of the seeds and they were not aware of a contamination threat.

But the concentration of pesticide-coated seeds being taken in at the AltEn site left the plant’s wastewater and byproducts such as distillers grains contaminated with an pesticides at levels much higher than what is considered safe.

Now the area’s water and soil is showing evidence of contamination.

Carol Blood, a Nebraska state senator, calls the situation an “environmental catastrophe.”  Fish die-offs have been reported miles downstream from the plant and university researchers have reported the decimation of dozens of honeybee colonies, while state officials have received reports of sick and dying geese and other birds.

See this May 29, 2021 story in the Guardian.

As reported in the Guardian, the contamination has been ongoing for years. There have been accidental spills and leaks of the plant’s pesticide-laden waste, which has been stored in poorly maintained lagoons and piled into hills of a putrid lime-green mash called “wet cake.” The company had also distributed the waste to area farmers for spreading across fields as “soil conditioner.”

It was only earlier this year – after the Guardian exposed the problems – that state officials ordered the plant to close, and began clean-up efforts. In February, roughly  a month after the revelations about the dangers of the AltEn plant’s practice of using pesticide-treated seeds, Nebraska state regulators ordered the plant closed.  

The Nebraska Attorney General’s office sued the company in March, alleging multiple violations of environmental regulations and said there is an “ongoing threat to the environment,” because of AltEn’s actions.

Nebraska lawmakers also have now passed a bill restricting the use of pesticide-treated seeds for ethanol production.

And researchers from the University of Nebraska and from Creighton University are launching a 10-year study of the impacts of the AltEn contamination on human and environmental health.

On June 10, 2021, the state announced that a coalition of seed companies – calling themselves the AltEn Facility Response Group – has formally asked the state to allow them develop and help implement short- and long-term remediation plans for the environmental cleanup.

The concerns in Mead are but the latest example of growing global fear about the impacts of neonicotinoids.

See here some of the regulatory documents related to the controversy as well as other background materials:

May 20, 2021 Bayer to NDEE email re pipe leak

May 20, 2021 seed company letter to NDEE re cattle facility sale

May 18, 2021 Bayer email with NDEE over pipe leak report

May 17, 2021 memorandum with aerial photos of AltEn site

May 14, 2021, NDEE approves Bayer request on AltEn water movement 

May 7, 2021 letter regarding pond pesticide sampling concerns

April 8 letter regarding soil sampling at Mead City Park

March 31, 2021 pond sampling results letter

Feb 14, 2021  inspection report of leak

Jan 13, 2021 EPA OPP letter to NDEE regarding pesticides in ethanol wastewater lagoons

Nov. 17, 2020, EPA OPP letter to NDEE regarding pesticides in AltEn wet cake 

Analysis of wetcake distillers grains

Wastewater analysis 

April 2018 citizen complaint

State response to April 2018 complaints

May 2018 state response to complaints

AltEn Stop use & sell letter June 2019

State letter denying permits and discussing problems

May 2018 list of farmers where they spread the waste

July 2018 discussion of wetcake being treated seed

Sept 2020 letter re spills with photos

October 2020 letter of noncompliance

February 2013 permit application from AltEn

Aerial Photos of site taken by state

How Neonicotinoids Can Kill Bees

Trends in neonicotinoid pesticide residues in food and water in the United States, 1999-2015

Letter from health experts to EPA warning on neonicotinoids

Letter from Endocrine Society to EPA on neonicotinoids 

Neonicotinoid pesticides can stay in the U.S. market, EPA says

Petition to California to regulate neonic-treated seeds

Vanishing Bees: Science, Politics and Honeybee Health (Rutgers University Press, 2017)

See photos below taken by Nebraska state investigators in May 2021 and provided to US Right to Know.

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Elderly woman to take on Monsanto in next trial over cancer claims

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An elderly California woman who was a regular user of Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer for more than 30 years is set as the next person to try to prove that exposure to the chemical causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a claim already won by plaintiffs in three previous trials.

The case of Donnetta Stephens v. Monsanto is set for trial July 19 in San Bernardino County Superior Court in California. Stephens from Yucaipa, California was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) in 2017 and has suffered from numerous health complications amid multiple rounds of chemotherapy since then. Because of her poor health,  a judge in December granted Stephens a trial “preference,” meaning her case was expedited, after her lawyers informed the court that Stephens is “in a perpetual state of pain,” and losing cognition and memory.

Several other cases have either already been granted preference trial dates or are seeking trial dates for other plaintiffs, including at least two children, suffering from NHL the plaintiffs allege was caused by exposure to Roundup products.

Monsanto was purchased by Bayer AG in 2018 and is no longer a stand-alone company but is the named defendant in ongoing litigation, which began in 2015 after cancer experts consulted by a unit of the World Health Organization determined glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s  Roundup, is a probable human carcinogen with a particular association to NHL.

Some old evidence, some new

The Stephens case is expected to involve many of the same expert witnesses and same documents and deposition testimony that helped plaintiffs win the prior trials, said Stephens’ lawyer Fletch Trammell. Two new experts who have not testified previously in Roundup trials will be called, however, said Trammell. They are Barry Boyd, an oncologist from Yale Cancer Center, and Luoping Zhang, an adjunct professor of toxicology at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley.

Zhang is the lead author of a meta-analysis published in 2019 that determined research showed “a compelling link” between exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup, and increased risk for NHL.  The analysis found that people with high exposures to the popular pesticides have a 41 percent increased risk of developing NHL.

Monsanto has long maintained that there is no legitimate scientific research showing a definitive association between glyphosate and NHL or any type of cancer. A 2020 meta-analysis could be useful to  Monsanto’s defense. That report concluded that there is “no overall evidence of an increased risk” for NHL “in subjects occupationally exposed to glyphosate.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has supported the safety of glyphosate products, saying the agency’s analysis of scientific evidence shows the chemical is “not likely” to cause cancer.

The company claims the scientists with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC),  who classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen, engaged in improper conduct and failed to give adequate weight to several important studies.

But the juries in the three prior trials found the evidence so overwhelming in favor of plaintiffs that they awarded the plaintiff in the first trial $289 million; the plaintiff in the second trial $80 million; and more than $2 billion to the husband-and-wife plaintiffs in the third trial. All the awards were reduced sharply by judges involved in the cases but the verdicts assigning blame to Monsanto for the cancers have not been overturned.

Bayer settlement issues

Bayer said last year that it had agreed to pay close to $11 billion to settle close to 100,000 Roundup cancer claims, but many law firms have dismissed the individual offers for their clients as insufficient, and they continue to press for more trials.

Additionally, Bayer has thus far failed to get court approval for varying proposals to try to create a class action settlement program for people who bring cancer claims in the future. After a stinging rebuke of its plans issued last month by a federal judge overseeing much of the litigation, Bayer said it is now considering pulling Roundup products from the U.S. market for residential users, though not from farm use.

There are thousands of plaintiffs still awaiting either settlement offers or trial settings, and as they wait, the deaths mount. Another woman who was granted a trial preference in a December court order, died only a month later, in January. 

The last trial held concluded in May 2019. Since then several other trials have been scheduled but Monsanto settled each case before the trials started.

Trammell said so far Monsanto has not made any settlement offer for the Stephens case and has made only what he called “nuisance value” five-figure offers for other clients he represents.

“She used Roundup for over 30 years, and had heavy exposure,” Trammell said of Stephens. “There is no non-Hodgkin anywhere in her family tree.  They are rolling out the same defenses and I think they’re going to lose on the same grounds.”

According to court filings, Stephens health has deteriorated significantly in the last year:

“The pain and weakness Ms. Stephens experiences in her feet and legs cause her to stumble and fall frequently, and she relies on her husband to walk behind her in case she should fall. Id. Because of this pain and weakness, Ms. Stephens is no longer able to drive a car. Ms. Stephens also suffers from
severe vertigo and very regularly passes out due to the intense dizziness she experiences. 
Formerly, Ms. Stephens was an active individual who loved to tend to her neighbors’ gardens.
Now, she can barely walk and must use a cane or walker to support herself.  Her physician
has informed her that she will need a wheelchair in the near future. Using her own word, Ms.
Stephens describes the pain she experiences as though she is getting shot through with electricity.
As this description reflects, the pain Ms. Stephens experiences is relentless, unabated, and all-consuming, causing this once former active individual to live her life in a perpetual state of fear of undertaking the simple task of movement.”

Bayer did not respond to a request for comment.

The case is Stephens v. Monsanto CIVSB2104801 in the Superior Court of California – County of San Bernardino.

Consolidation approved for lawsuits against Syngenta and Chevron over herbicide

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A U.S. judicial panel has ordered the pretrial consolidation of dozens of lawsuits against Syngenta and Chevron over allegations that paraquat weed killer, which has been used widely around the world for more than 50 years, causes Parkinson’s disease.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation said that “to date, 77 actions and potential tag-along actions are pending in sixteen different districts,” and they all involve “common factual issues concerning the propensity of paraquat to cause Parkinson’s Disease.” The cases will include “complex scientific and regulatory issues,” the panel said.

“Centralization will eliminate duplicative discovery; avoid inconsistent pretrial rulings; and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary,” the panel stated in its order.

The panel determined the cases will be transferred to the federal court in the Southern District of Illinois and assigned to U.S. Judge Nancy Rosenstengel for handling.

Lawyer Majed Nachawati, whose firm is among those representing hundreds of plaintiffs suing Syngenta and Chevron, applauded the decision, and said the litigation is “monumentally important.” It was Nachawati’s firm that requested the MDL.

Syngenta, a Swiss company owned by a larger Chinese chemical company, developed and markets the paraquat-based Gramoxone brand, while Chevron has been a distributor of Syngenta’s paraquat products in the United States.

The formation of the paraquat multidistrict litigation (MDL) underscores the legal threat Syngenta faces in the litigation.  An MDL was also formed for the lawsuits filed against Monsanto over allegations that its Roundup weed killers cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma; ultimately tens of thousands of people sued the company for such claims and Monsanto’s owner, Bayer AG, is now facing settlement payouts of more than $10 billion.

Syngenta said in a statement that it agrees with the decision to coordinate the various federal lawsuits before one judge.

“This will help the parties and the courts proceed in a timely and efficient way,” the company said.

Chevron did not respond to a request for comment.

Used since the ’60s

Paraquat has been used in the United States since 1964 as a tool to kill broadleaf weeds and grasses. Farmers often use paraquat before planting crops or before those crops emerge. It has long been known to be extremely dangerous to anyone who ingests even a small amount, and regulators have issued warnings and placed restrictions on its use because of poisoning risks.

The body of science showing links between Parkinson’s disease and paraquat is less clear, having evolved over time. The EPA does not currently confirm a causal link to Parkinson’s disease. But many scientists say the research showing causation is robust.

Several scientific studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s, including a large study of U.S. farmers jointly overseen by multiple U.S. government agencies.

The Agricultural Health Study (AHS), which is backed by numerous U.S. agencies and researchers, has found that “exposure to agricultural pesticides may increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.” And in 2011, AHS researchers reported that participants who used paraquat or another pesticide were “twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease” as people who were not exposed to those chemicals.

Syngenta maintains that newer and better research, including by AHS scientists, has discounted a tie between paraquat and Parkinson’s.

In addition to the cases brought on behalf of people suffering from Parkinson’s, additionally, a class action lawsuit was filed in federal court in Iowa on May 3 by a law firm representing people who fear they may get the disease in the future.

The suit seeks “equitable relief in the form of medical monitoring, including, but not limited to, the costs of diagnostic testing” for farmers and others exposed to paraquat who are allegedly at “increased risk” for Parkinson’s, according to the legal filing.

Settlement rumors

What was supposed to be the first trial over allegations that Syngenta’s paraquat causes Parkinson’s has been delayed multiple times and the parties may be nearing a settlement, according to sources close to the case.

The trial in the case of Hoffman V. Syngenta is pending in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois and has had multiple trial dates set and then cancelled, the most recent earlier this month.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs in that case had pronounced publicly that he had internal Syngenta documents that would expose the company’s alleged knowledge of connections between paraquat and Parkinson’s.

But Syngenta steadfastly has denied any such evidence exists.

“Syngenta has great sympathy for the health issues faced by the plaintiffs and others suffering from the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease,” the company’s statement reads.  “We care deeply about the health and well-being of farmers and are dedicated to providing them safe and effective products. There is no credible evidence that Paraquat, which has been widely used for more than 55 years, causes Parkinson’s disease.  No peer reviewed study, including the largest study which involved 38,000 farmers, has ever concluded Paraquat causes Parkinson’s disease.  The EPA and other government authorities have extensively analyzed this issue and similarly found no evidence that Paraquat causes Parkinson’s disease. The facts simply do not support the Plaintiffs’ allegations, and we intend to defend this product and our legal position vigorously in court.”

Another delay for trial set to examine allegation that Syngenta weed killer causes Parkinson’s

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A highly anticipated first-ever trial pitting a group of farmers against the global agricultural giant Syngenta AG over allegations that Syngenta’s paraquat weed killer causes Parkinson’s disease has been delayed again and may not take place at all, according to sources close to the case.

The trial in the case of Hoffman V. Syngenta was scheduled to start June 1 in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois before Associate Judge Kevin Hoerner. Previously it was set to begin May 10, and prior to that it had a trial date in April.

The cancellation of the June 1 trial date came amid speculation that the parties are deep into settlement talks. No new trial date has yet been set, according to a St. Clair County Circuit Court clerk.

The plaintiffs in the case developed Parkinson’s after repeated exposure to paraquat products, specifically Syngenta’s widely used Gramoxone brand. Three of the original plaintiffs in the case have died, including plaintiff Thomas Hoffman.

The trial was to be livestreamed by Courtroom View Network, and plaintiffs’ attorney Steve Tillery had vowed to unveil decades of internal corporate documents he said would show Syngenta knew its paraquat-based weed killer causes Parkinson’s disease, a disorder that impacts nerve cells in the brain and  leads in advanced cases to severe physical debilitation and often dementia and death.

Tillery would not respond to a request for comment, and a Syngenta spokesman also declined to comment.

Also named as defendants in the case are Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., formed as a joint venture between Chevron USA and Phillips 66. Chevron helped distribute Syngenta’s products in the United States. Illinois agricultural cooperative Growmark is also a defendant for its role in supplying paraquat products.

There are currently at least 20 lawsuits filed in multiple state and federal courts across the country on behalf of plaintiffs who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and claim Syngenta’s paraquat weed killers are to blame.

The caseload is expected to grow rapidly, and on Thursday the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation heard arguments on a motion filed by the Texas-based law firm of Fears Nachawati asking that pending paraquat lawsuits be consolidated for pretrial proceedings in the Northern District of California, the same federal court where Roundup litigation was consolidated.

Additionally, a class action lawsuit was filed in federal court in Iowa on May 3. The suit seeks “equitable relief in the form of medical monitoring, including, but not limited to, the costs of diagnostic testing” for farmers and others exposed to paraquat who are allegedly at “increased risk” for Parkinson’s, according to the legal filing.

Several scientific studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s, including a large study of U.S. farmers jointly overseen by multiple U.S. government agencies.

Farmers use paraquat in the production of many crops, including corn, soy and cotton. The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) said it found that “exposure to agricultural pesticides may increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.” In 2011, AHS researchers reported that “participants who used paraquat or rotenone were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as people who didn’t use these chemicals.”

Syngenta argues that newer and more robust research, including by AHS scientists, has discounted a tie between paraquat and Parkinson’s.

Paraquat Papers

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Multiple lawsuits are pending in the United States alleging the weedkilling chemical paraquat causes Parkinson’s disease, and the first case to go to trial over the allegations against Syngenta over paraquat and Parkinson’s was originally scheduled for April 12 but was rescheduled for May 10 in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois and then was delayed again until June 1 and then was called off on May 28.  The parties are reportedly in settlement talks.

That Illinois case – Hoffman V. Syngenta – is one of at least 14 cases ending against Syngenta alleging the company’s paraquat products cause Parkinson’s Disease. The Hoffman case also names Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. and Growmark Inc. as defendants. Chevron distributed and sold Gramoxone paraquat product in the United States in an agreement with a Syngenta predecessor called Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), which introduced paraquat-based Gramoxone in 1962. Under a license agreement, Chevron had the right to to manufacture, use, and sell paraquat formulations in the U.S.

Lawyers around the United States are advertising for plaintiffs, seeking to draw in thousands of people who’ve been exposed to paraquat and now suffer from Parkinson’s.

Some of  the most recently filed cases were brought in federal courts in California and Illinois. Among those cases are Rakoczy V. Syngenta,  Durbin V. Syngenta and Kearns V. Syngenta.

On April 7, 2021, the Fears Nachawati Texas-based law firm filed a motion with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation in Washington, D.C., asking that pending paraquat lawsuits be consolidated for pretrial proceedings in the Northern District of California, the same federal court where Roundup litigation was consolidated. The case with the judicial panel is MDL No. 3004. The panel hearing on the matter was May 27.

Additionally, a class action lawsuit was filed in federal court in Iowa on May 3. The suit seeks “equitable relief in the form of medical monitoring, including, but not limited to, the costs of diagnostic testing” for farmers and others exposed to paraquat who are allegedly at “increased risk” for Parkinson’s, according to the legal filing.

Several scientific studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s, including a large study of U.S. farmers jointly overseen by multiple U.S. government agencies.  Farmers use paraquat in the production of many crops, including corn, soy and cotton. The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) said it found that “exposure to agricultural pesticides may increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.” In 2011, AHS researchers reported that “participants who used paraquat or rotenone were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as people who didn’t use these chemicals.”

A more recent paper from AHS researchers stated that “Extensive literature suggests an association between general pesticide use and Parkinson’s disease (PD). However, with few exceptions, little is known about associations between specific pesticides and PD.”

Parkinson’s is an incurable progressive nervous system disorder that limits a person’s ability to control movement, causing tremors, loss of balance and eventually often leaving victims bedridden and/or bound to a wheelchair. The disease is not necessarily fatal but typically becomes severely debilitating.

Dutch neurologist Bastiaan Bloem, who recently authored a book about Parkinson’s, blames widespread exposure to herbicides such as paraquat, along with other toxic chemicals used in agriculture and manufacturing, for the spread of the disease.

Acutely Toxic 

Along with fears about links between paraquat and Parkinson’s, paraquat is also known to be an extremely acutely toxic chemical that can quickly kill people who ingest very small amounts. In Europe, the sale of paraquat has been banned since 2007, but in the United States the pesticide is sold as a “Restricted Use Pesticide” due to “acute toxicity.”

As part of discovery in the Parkinson’s litigation, lawyers have obtained internal records from Syngenta and its predecessor corporate entities dating back to the 1960s. Many of these documents are sealed, but some have started to come to light.

Those unsealed discovery documents, which include copies of letters, minutes of meetings, study summaries, and emails, are being made available on this page.

Most of the documents unsealed to date deal with corporate discussions about how to keep paraquat herbicides on the market despite its deadliness, through measures designed to reduce accidental poisonings. Specifically, many of the documents detail an internal corporate struggle over the addition of an emetic, a vomit-inducing agent, to paraquat products.  Today, all Syngenta paraquat-containing products include an emetic called “PP796.”  Liquid paraquat-containing formulations from Syngenta also include a stenching agent to produce a foul odor, and a blue dye to differentiate the dark-colored herbicide from tea or cola or other beverages.

EPA Review 

Paraquat is currently undergoing the EPA’s registration review process, and on Oct. 23, 2020, the agency  released a proposed interim decision (PID) for paraquat, which proposes mitigation measures to reduce human health and ecological risks identified in the agency’s 2019 draft human health and ecological risk assessments.

The EPA said that through collaboration with the National Toxicology Program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the agency completed a “thorough review” of the scientific information on paraquat and Parkinson’s Disease and concluded that the weight of evidence was insufficient to link paraquat to Parkinson’s disease. The agency published this “Systematic Review of the Literature to Evaluate the Relationship between Paraquat Dichloride Exposure and Parkinson’s Disease.”

USRTK will add documents to this page as they become available.

Judge shoots down Bayer’s plan to limit future Roundup legal liability, issues harsh criticism

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(UPDATED May 27 with Bayer statement about new plans)

The federal judge overseeing nationwide Roundup litigation on Wednesday denied Bayer’s latest attempt to limit its legal liability from future cancer claims associated with its glyphosate-based herbicides, citing numerous “glaring flaws” in a settlement proposed to apply to Roundup users who have not yet sued the company but may want to do so in the future.

Saying parts of the plan were “clearly unreasonable” and unfair to cancer sufferers who would be part of the class settlement, U.S. Judge Vince Chhabria castigated Bayer and the small group of lawyers who put the plan together in conjunction with Bayer.

He pointed out that the company has been “losing trials left and right” in claims brought by people suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) who alleged exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides were the cause.

Bayer has owned Monsanto since 2018 and has been struggling to defend the cancer claims ever since. Cancer victims have won three trials held to date, and tens of thousands of other plaintiffs have filed lawsuits alleging exposure to Monsanto’s herbicides caused them to develop NHL while Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

Elizabeth Cabraser, one of the lawyers who structured the settlement plan, said the proponents were “disappointed” by the ruling and “continue to believe that a multi-billion-dollar class settlement that includes free legal services and substantial compensation to claimants, NHL diagnostic assistance, research into NHL treatment, and Roundup label reform to inform users and the public on all the science regarding a Roundup/NHL link, would provide tremendous financial, health and safety benefits for class members.”

But one of the lead objectors to the plan, lawyer Majed Nachawati, said Cabraser had attempted to “create a sham settlement” that would have harmed the legal rights of “thousands of injured Americans.”

Bayer issued a statement following the judge’s order saying it would consider “the future of glyphosate-based products in the U.S. residential market,” though any changes there would “not affect the availability of glyphosate-based products in markets for professional and agricultural users.” The company said discussions about the future of residential Roundup products was part of a “five-point plan” the company would now pursue.

“The new package of measures, which combine a number of legal and commercial actions, is designed to help the company achieve a level of risk mitigation that is comparable to the previously proposed national class solution,” Bayer said.

Evidence favors plaintiffs, judge says

Judge Chhabria said in his decision that the company’s desire to set up a “science panel” to determine whether or not the herbicides actually cause cancer rather than leave that question to future juries is because of the trial losses the company has so far suffered.

The “reason Monsanto wants a science panel so badly is that the company has lost the ‘battle of the experts’ in three trials, the judge wrote in his order.  “At present, the playing field on the issue of expert testimony related to causation is slanted heavily in favor of plaintiffs.”

The ruling comes after a lengthy hearing last week held to discuss widespread opposition by personal injury attorneys across the United States to the settlement proposal. The proposed plan called for Bayer to put up roughly $2 billion for a series of actions that would help the company avoid future Roundup cancer trials.

The class action settlement would apply to people exposed to Roundup products as of Feb. 3, 2021 who have not yet sued Monsanto or retained a lawyer to do so. The settlement plan would set up a framework for addressing new claims brought by those exposed individuals who develop NHL they attribute to their Roundup exposure. It would apply to people who already have NHL but who have not yet sued the company and to people who develop NHL in the future.

The plan was structured by Bayer in coordination with a small team of plaintiffs’ lawyers who stood to be paid millions of dollars for their participation.

Proponents of the proposed class action plan told the judge it “will save lives,” and provide “speedy compensation” to people who get NHL they blame on Roundup exposure.

But opponents said the proposal actually did little for cancer patients while benefiting Bayer and the lawyers who helped develop the plan.

At the heart of the objections is the view that if approved, the class action plan could limit the due process rights of people to go to trial and seek punitive damages awards in the future if they are diagnosed with NHL after Roundup exposure, while allowing Bayer to keep selling Roundup products with no express warning of a cancer risk on the label.

The limiting of plaintiffs’ ability to seek punitive damages while not limiting Bayer’s ability to keep selling Roundup distinguishes this settlement from any similar class action, according to an opposition brief filed by the nonprofit legal group Public Justice. The plan is a “blueprint for how manufacturers can cut off victims’ rights to seek punitive damages from injuries caused by hazardous pesticides, the group said.

Another key problem with the plan, according to critics, is that everyone in the United States who meets the criteria as a potential plaintiff would automatically become part of the class and subject to its provisions if they did not actively opt out of the class within a specified time period. If people did not opt out – even if they didn’t know about the plan – they would be stripped of  the right to seek punitive damages if they ever did file a lawsuit.

“Monsanto tried to buy its own system of justice and it is wonderful that the court saw through what they were trying to do,” said lawyer Gerson Smoger, who is among the opponents.  “The settlement would’ve been a travesty for those who use Roundup.”

Separate from larger settlement

The class action plan, which is separate from an $11 billion settlement of Roundup litigation announced by Bayer last June to address already filed lawsuits, needs approval from Chhabria. The judge has been overseeing the federal multidistrict Roundup litigation involving thousands of plaintiffs from around the United States.

Bayer’s desire to find a settlement is “not surprising because the alternative to settling – continuing to lose trials left and right – is not attractive,” the judge wrote in his ruling.

“In sum, the settlement proposed by these attorneys would accomplish a lot for Monsanto,” he wrote. “It would substantially diminish the company’s settlement exposure and litigation exposure at the
back end, eliminating punitive damages and potentially increasing its chances of winning trials
on compensatory damages. It would accomplish far less for the Roundup users who have not
been diagnosed with NHL—and not nearly as much as the attorneys pushing this deal contend.”

Bayer’s new plan

Bayer said in addition to consideration of withdrawing Roundup from residential use, the company’s  plan includes the following:

  • Creation and promotion of a new website with scientific studies relevant to Roundup safety, and a request that EPA approves corresponding language on Roundup labels.
  • Exploration of the creation of an independent scientific advisory panel comprised of external scientific experts to review scientific information regarding the safety of Roundup. The results would be released publicly and added to the new website.
  • Continuation of settlement discussions and continuing appeals of the two of the three cases lost at trial. The company already exhausted appeals in the first case it lost at trial. Bayer is hoping to get a case to the U.S. Supreme Court and get a favorable ruling on its position that state-based failure-to-warn claims conflict with, and are preempted by, federal law.

Key Court Hearing Wednesday in Bayer Cancer Liability Litigation

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(UPDATED May 18 with pretrial order)

As Bayer AG works to put an end to costly litigation over alleged connections between Roundup herbicide and cancer, the company faces a critical hearing on Wednesday in federal court in San Francisco.

At issue in the hearing is a proposed $2 billion class action settlement structured by Bayer in coordination with a small team of plaintiffs’ lawyers as a means to address potential future lawsuits.

Proponents of the proposed class action plan say it “will save lives,” and provide “speedy compensation” to people who get NHL.

But the plan has generated widespread opposition from law firms around the country who say the proposal actually does little for cancer patients while benefiting Bayer and the lawyers who structured the proposal and who will be paid millions of dollars in fees if the plan goes through.

The class action settlement would apply to people exposed to Roundup products as of Feb. 3, 2021 who have not yet sued Monsanto or retained a lawyer to do so. The settlement plan would set up a framework for addressing new claims brought by those exposed individuals who develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) they attribute to their Roundup exposure.

The class action plan, which is separate from an $11 billion settlement of Roundup litigation announced by Bayer last June to address already filed lawsuits, needs approval from U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria.  A prior class action settlement plan submitted last year was scorned by Chhabria and then withdrawn. The judge has been overseeing the federal multidistrict Roundup litigation involving thousands of plaintiffs from around the United States.

On Tuesday, Judge Chhabria issued a pretrial order stating that Wednesday’s hearing “will focus on big-picture concerns” with the proposed settlement.

Bayer bought Monsanto in 2018 and has been struggling ever since to defend the line of glyphosate-based herbicide products such as Roundup that Bayer inherited in the acquisition. Cancer victims have won three trials held to date and tens of thousands of other plaintiffs have filed lawsuits alleging exposure to Monsanto’s herbicides caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma while Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

A “Big Prize”

Likening the class action settlement proposal to a “carnival barker hawking a ‘big prize,’” veteran consumer attorney Gerson Smoger told the court in a recent filing: “This is not merely an unfair deal.  It is a deal designed to allow Monsanto to poison future generations. Monsanto knows it can only do this if it can put shackles on our system of justice. After four attempts, it should be clear that this proposed settlement cannot be remedied. This Court should deny preliminary approval and end this exercise in allowing a corporation to buy its own justice system.”

Smoger is one of more than 160 lawyers from more than 90 law firms who have notified the court they object to the proposed class action settlement, which has been rewritten multiple times already to try to appease objections.

At the heart of the objections is the view that if approved, the class action plan could limit the due process rights of people to go to trial and seek punitive damages awards in the future if they are diagnosed with NHL after Roundup exposure, while allowing Bayer to keep selling Roundup products with no express warning of a cancer risk on the label.

The limiting of plaintiffs’ ability to seek punitive damages while not limiting Bayer’s ability to keep selling Roundup distinguishes this settlement from any similar class action, according to an opposition brief filed by the nonprofit legal group Public Justice. The plan is a “blueprint for how manufacturers can cut off victims’ rights to seek punitive damages from injuries caused by hazardous pesticides, the group said.

“Importantly, there has never been a release of punitive damages in a class action settlement involving a hazardous product that was still on the market. If this Court approves this Settlement, it would be the first time that has ever happened in the history of American jurisprudence,” the Public Justice brief states.

The critics also object to the proposed formation of a science panel designed to provide evidence about whether or not the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides actually are carcinogenic, a four-year stay of future litigation, and many other components of the plan.

Proponents Cite Plan Benefits

The legal team pushing the class action settlement forward, counters that the plan actually is a good thing for people who may develop NHL in the future.

“This settlement will save lives. It will deliver notice, outreach, and information, including on the product label itself, to Roundup users—among them those overlooked by the tort system to date—that they may be at risk and should take action,” the proponents of the plan said in a court filing.

According to the class action settlement proponents, the plan will

  • Alert potential class members to be evaluated for NHL, and provide them diagnostic assistance to do so through a medical-monitoring program
  • Provide an option for “significant and speedy compensation” if a class member gets NHL
  • Provide access to free legal services
  • Fund research into treatment and diagnosis of NHL.
  • Allow class members the right to sue Monsanto for compensatory damages if the class member prefers

Judge Chhabria said in an order issued May 10 that along with hearing from the proponents of the plan, he will allow oral arguments from all those who have filed objections to the plan in Wednesday’s hearing.

In his pretrial order issued May 18, Chhabria said several questions would need to be addressed. Among the questions posed by the judge are these:

  • Why is it in the interest of the class to agree in advance to the admission in future trials of
    the conclusions of a court-appointed independent science panel, given how well the trials
    have been going for plaintiffs without such a panel?
  • If the Court understands the settlement correctly, it binds anyone exposed to Roundup
    before February 3, 2021 (assuming they do not opt out), but contemplates that the
    compensation fund and medical monitoring program can be terminated a few years after
    the settlement is approved. Why would it be in the interest of people exposed to Roundup
    before February 2021 to bind themselves to a fund and program that expires so quickly?
  • Is it appropriate to certify a class for settlement purposes when it is obvious that the class could never be certified for litigation purposes?

Another loss for Bayer over Roundup cancer claims as appeals court shoots down preemption argument

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In a blow to Monsanto owner Bayer AG’s bid to block continued liability over Roundup cancer litigation, a federal appeals court shot down the company’s argument that federal regulatory backing of the company’s herbicides preempts claims made by cancer patient Edwin Hardeman.

In a ruling issued Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Hardeman, and said Monsanto erred in asserting that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) preempts state laws and a duty to warn.

The company’s primary hope since losing all three of three trials held to date is to get a U.S. Supreme Court finding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of its products under FIFRA  essentially bars complaints that Monsanto didn’t warn of any cancer risk with its herbicides.

The preemption argument is seen as weak by many legal experts because a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case titled Bates v. Dow Agrosciences established that the EPA’s approval of a product does not rule out claims of a failure to warn brought under state law, and FIFRA expressly states that EPA approval doesn’t constitute an absolute defense.

“It’s a dead duck in the water,” Hardeman lawyer Aimee Wagstaff said of the preemption defense. “They need to let that one go.”

Unanimous verdict

Hardeman won a unanimous jury verdict in March 2019 claiming that exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide products caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He initially was awarded $80 million but the punitive damages were reduced by the trial judge from $75 million to $20 million, leaving him with a total award of approximately $25 million.

The evidence in his case, “showed the carcinogenic risk of glyphosate was knowable at the time of Hardeman’s exposure,” the appeals court ruling states.

The Hardeman case is one of tens of thousands pending against Monsanto for which Bayer is liable after purchasing the company in June of 2018. After Bayer bought Monsanto, four plaintiffs in three trials  won damages against the company. In all, roughly 100,000 U.S. plaintiffs have alleged they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup. The plaintiffs allege that Monsanto knew for years of scientific evidence showing cancer risks associated with its products, but worked to suppress the information to protect its profits.

In his 2019 ruling cutting the award but upholding the jury finding, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria had harsh words for Monsanto, writing: “Despite years of colorable claims in the scientific community that Roundup causes NHL, Monsanto presented minimal evidence suggesting that it was interested in getting to the bottom of those claims… While Monsanto repeatedly intones that it stands by the safety of its product, the evidence at trial painted the picture of a company focused on attacking or undermining the people who raised concerns, to the exclusion of being an objective arbiter of Roundup’s safety.”

Trial pitting farmers against Syngenta delayed until June

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A highly anticipated first-ever trial pitting a group of farmers against the global agricultural giant Syngenta AG over allegations that Syngenta’s paraquat weed killer causes Parkinson’s disease has been delayed until June, the parties involved said on Saturday.

The trial was set to begin Monday, livestreamed by Courtroom View Network, but a continuance was ordered setting a new trial date for June 1. A spokesman for the plaintiffs’ legal team said the delay was not due to any settlement efforts, but due to “a combination of scheduling and Covid issues.”

The case is titled Hoffman V. Syngenta and is set for a bench trial in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois before Associate Judge Kevin Hoerner.

The plaintiffs are farmers who developed Parkinson’s after repeated exposure to paraquat products, specifically Syngenta’s widely used Gramoxone brand, and the spouses of those farmers. Three of the original plaintiffs in the case have died, including plaintiff Thomas Hoffman.

Parkinson’s is a disorder that impacts nerve cells in the brain and  leads in advanced cases to severe physical debilitation and often dementia and death.

Experts in the study and treatment of Parkinson’s warn that the disease is on the rise. One such expert, Dutch neurologist Bastiaan Bloem, predicts the number of people suffering from Parkinson’s will double to more than 13 million in the next 20 years.

Bloem is one of many scientists who blame exposure to paraquat as among multiple risk factors for developing Parkinson’s.

Also named as defendants in the case are Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., formed as a joint venture between Chevron USA and Phillips 66. Chevron helped distribute Syngenta’s products in the United States. Illinois agricultural cooperative Growmark is also a defendant for its role in supplying paraquat products.

There are currently at least 20 lawsuits filed in multiple state and federal courts across the country on behalf of plaintiffs who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and claim Syngenta’s paraquat weed killers are to blame.

Lawyer C. Calvin Warriner III, who is not involved in the Hoffman case but has other plaintiffs suing over the same issues, said he predicts “hundreds if not thousands of cases” will be filed in the next year because of “solid” scientific evidence linking paraquat to Parkinson’s.

Paraquat litigation grows, first trial set for May 10

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Six more lawsuits alleging Syngenta’s weed killing pesticide paraquat causes Parkinson’s Disease were filed last week in Pennsylvania, California and Illinois, adding to more than a dozen similar lawsuits already filed in U.S. courts.

The lawsuits all allege that exposure to paraquat,  which is banned in more than 30 countries though not in the United States, causes the incurable and progressive Parkinson’s disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain, leading in advanced cases to severe physical debilitation and often dementia and death.

Many Parkinson’s experts say the disease can be caused by a range of factors, including exposure to pesticides such as paraquat, as well as other chemicals.

The first trial set to take place in the United States is to begin on May 10 in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois. Missouri lawyer Steve Tillery  is representing the plaintiffs in Hoffman V. Syngenta and said he plans to introduce evidence that includes internal company records showing Syngenta has known for decades that its product causes Parkinson’s Disease.

The defendants in the Hoffman case, as well as the other cases filed, name the Swiss-based Syngenta and Chevron USA as defendants.

Both Chevron and Syngenta deny there is a connection between the disease and the weed killer.

Chevron distributed and sold paraquat products in the United States starting with an agreement with a Syngenta predecessor called Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), which introduced a paraquat-based herbicide called Gramoxone in 1962. Under a license agreement, Chevron had the right to manufacture, use, and sell paraquat formulations in the U.S.

Syngenta says that its paraquat products have been approved as “safe and effective” for more than 50 years and it will “vigorously” defend the lawsuits. Syngenta is owned by China National Chemical Corporation, known as ChemChina.

The complaints were filed on April 30 by a team of law firms: DiCello Levitt Gutzler, Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, P.C. and  Searcy Denney.

Mark DiCello, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys bringing the cases, said Chevron and Syngenta have “long known they were peddling this poison,” and that the science surrounding paraquat “is conclusively on the side of the plaintiffs.”

Jeffrey Goodman, another of the plaintiffs’ attorneys helping bring the litigation said the filings so far are but the “tip of the iceberg” of what he expects to expand into a major mass tort case.

“The manufacturers of paraquat knew for decades that their product was linked to Parkinson’s disease yet chose to hide this information from regulators and the public,” Goodman said.

The newly filed cases are:

The new cases join at least 14 lawsuits filed by eight different law firms in six different federal courts across the country.