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Move to consolidate U.S. paraquat litigation as cases mount against Syngenta

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Lawyers suing Swiss chemical company Syngenta are asking a U.S. judicial panel to consolidate more than a dozen similar lawsuits under the oversight of a federal judge in California. The move is a telling sign of the expansion of litigation that alleges the company’s weed killing products cause Parkinson’s Disease.

According to the motion, filed April 7 by the Texas-based Fears Nachawati law firm with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, there are currently at least 14 lawsuits filed by eight
different law firms in six different federal courts across the country. The lawsuits are all filed on behalf of plaintiffs who have been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disorder, and they allege exposure to Syngenta’s weed killers made with a chemical called paraquat for the disease. Several other cases making the same allegations are pending in state courts.

“The cases are excellent candidates for coordinated pretrial proceedings because they arise from the same poisonous toxin causing the same crippling disease resulting from the wrongful conduct of the same three defendants,” the Fears Nachawati brief in support of its motion states. “Movant expects that the number of similar cases filed in state and federal courts across the country will expand rapidly.”

The motion seeks transfer specifically to Judge Edward Chen in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Majed Nachawati, a partner with the Fears Nachawati firm, said the firm was still investigating the size and scope of the overall litigation but believes the paraquat litigation against Syngenta “will be significant and material in nature…”

“Very soon, there is going to be litigation in dozens of federal courts across the country,” Nachawati said.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers will be seeking internal corporate documents as well as depositions of corporate officials related to the “testing, design, labeling, marketing, and safety of paraquat herbicides,” along with corporate research and evaluations of the toxicity and safety of its paraquat products.

The Miller Firm of Virginia, which helped lead the Roundup cancer litigation against Monsanto that resulted in an $11 billion settlement with Monsanto owner Bayer AG, is among the law firms joining in the paraquat litigation. The Miller firm supports the effort to consolidate the federal actions in California, where thousands of Roundup cases were also consolidated for pretrial proceedings, according to the firm’s lead attorney Mike Miller.

“We are confident that science strongly supports the causal connection between paraquat and the devastation of Parkinson’s disease,” Miller said of the motion. “The Northern District of California is well equipped to handle these cases.”

The cases against Syngenta also name Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. as a defendant. Chevron distributed and sold Gramoxone paraquat products in the United States starting with 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 manufacture, use, and sell paraquat formulations in the U.S.

Syngenta and Chevron have denied the allegations.

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.

Scientific studies

Parkinson’s is an incurable progressive disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain, leading in advanced cases to severe physical debilitation and often dementia. 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.

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. That 2011 research reported that people who used paraquat were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as people who did not use it.

“Numerous epidemiological and animal studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s disease,” said Dorsey Ray, a professor of neurology and director of the Center for Human Experimental Therapeutics at University of Rochester in New York. Dorsey is also the author of a book about prevention and treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.

“The evidence linking paraquat to Parkinson’s disease is probably the strongest of any pesticide commonly used,” he said.

Some studies have not found any clear links between paraquat and Parkinson’s and Syngenta asserts that the most recent and authoritative research does not show a connection.

Indeed, a study published in 2020 found connections between some other pesticides and Parkinson’s, but no strong evidence showing paraquat causes the disease.

Upcoming trial

One case filed in a state court is scheduled to go to trial next month. Hoffman V. Syngenta is slated for trial May 10 in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois. A status conference is scheduled for the end of this month.

Missouri lawyer Steve Tillery, who is representing the plaintiffs in the Hoffman case as well as several other plaintiffs in other paraquat lawsuits, said despite Syngenta’s assertions to the contrary, he has accumulated evidence that includes internal company records showing Syngenta has known for decades that its product causes Parkinson’s Disease.

“They shouldn’t be selling this product, said Tillery. “This chemical should be off the market.”

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. The trial is expected to be delayed due to precautions related to the Covid-19 virus.

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.

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.

Bayer’s class action settlement plan draws widespread outrage, opposition

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(Updated March 10 to include judge’s order delaying hearing until May 12)

More than 90 law firms and more than 160 lawyers have notified a federal court judge overseeing U.S. Roundup litigation that they oppose Monsanto owner Bayer AG’s $2 billion plan to settle future claims the company expects to be brought by people diagnosed with cancer they blame on use of Monsanto’s herbicide products.

In recent days, nine separate objections to the plan and four amicus briefs have been filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, letting Judge Vince Chhabria know the extent of opposition to the proposed class settlement. Chhabria has been overseeing thousands of Roundup cancer lawsuits in what is called ‘multidistrict litigation’ (MDL).

On Monday, the National Trial Lawyers (NTL) joined in the opposition on behalf of its 14,000 members. The group said in their filing with the court that they agree with the opposition that “the proposed settlement seriously endangers access to justice for millions of people in the proposed class, would prevent Monsanto’s victims from holding it accountable, and would reward Monsanto in numerous respects.”

The group reiterated in its filing the fear that if Bayer’s proposed settlement is approved, it will set a dangerous precedent for plaintiffs in future, unrelated cases: “It will hurt the proposed class members, not help them. This type of settlement would also provide an untenable template for other corporate tortfeasors to avoid appropriate liability and consequences for their conduct… the proposed class settlement is not how a ‘system of justice’ works and thus such a settlement should never be approved.”

The $2 billion proposed settlement is aimed at future cases and is separate from the $11 billion Bayer has earmarked to settle existing claims brought by people alleging they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) due to exposure to Monsanto’s weed killers. The people impacted by the class settlement proposal are individuals who have been exposed to Roundup products and either already have NHL or may develop NHL in the future, but who have not yet taken steps to file a lawsuit.

No punitive damages

One of the key problems with the Bayer plan, according to critics, is that everyone in the United States who meets the criteria as a potential plaintiff will automatically become part of the class and subject to its provisions if they do not actively opt out of the class within 150 days after Bayer issues notifications of the formation of the class. The notification proposed is not sufficient, the critics say. Moreover, the plan then strips those people – who may not even choose to be a part of the class – from the right to seek punitive damages if they do file a lawsuit.

Another provision garnering criticism is a proposed four-year “standstill” period blocking the filing of new lawsuits.

The critics also object to the proposed formation of a science panel that would act as a “guidepost” for an “extension of compensation options into the future” and to provide evidence about the carcinogenicity – or not – of Bayer’s herbicides.

The initial settlement period would run for at least four years and could be extended after that period.  If Bayer elects not to continue the compensation fund after the initial settlement period, it will pay an additional $200 million as an “end payment” into the compensation fund, the settlement summary states.

Struggling for a solution

Bayer has been struggling to figure out how to put an end to the Roundup cancer litigation since buying Monsanto in 2018. The company lost all three trials held to date and lost the early rounds of appeals seeking to overturn the trial losses.

Juries in each of the three trials found not only that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup cause cancer, but also that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

The small group of lawyers who put the plan together with Bayer say it will “save lives” and will provide “substantial benefits” to people who believe they developed cancer from exposure to the company’s herbicide products.

But that group of lawyers stands to receive $170 million for their work with Bayer to implement the proposed plan, a fact critics say taints their involvement and objectivity. None of the lawyers involved in putting the class action plan together with Bayer actively represented any plaintiffs in the broad Roundup litigation before this point, the critics point out.

In one of the opposition filings, lawyers seeking a rejection of the proposed settlement wrote this:

“This proposed settlement is opposed by those most familiar with the litigation of cases involving dangerous products like Roundup because they recognize that this proposal would benefit Monsanto and class counsel at the expense of the millions of people exposed to Roundup.

“Although this Roundup MDL has been underway for over four years, and other Roundup cases have been litigated in state courts, the impetus for this engineered class action settlement does not come from lawyers who have been handling Roundup cases and believe that an alternative method for resolving them is essential. Instead, the lawyers who are behind this settlement – and it is surely the lawyers and not Roundup victims – are class-action lawyers who seek to impose their views on all those who have been exposed to Roundup, in exchange for a very large fee.

“But an even bigger winner here will be Monsanto, which will get a four-year stay of litigation by class members, who will also lose their right to seek punitive damages and be saddled with the results of an ill-conceived science panel. In exchange, class members will be shunted into an alternate compensation system that features modest payments, increased complexity, and high hurdles to qualify.”

Delay sought

Bayer’s settlement plan was filed with the court on Feb. 3, and must be approved by Judge Chhabria in order to become effective. A prior settlement plan submitted last year was scorned by Chhabria and then withdrawn.

A hearing on the matter was set for March 31 but the attorneys who put the plan together with Bayer have asked Judge Chhabria to delay the hearing until May 13, citing the breadth of the opposition they must address. The judge responded with an order resetting the hearing for May 12.

“These filings totaled more than 300 pages, in addition to more than 400 pages of attached declarations and exhibits,” the lawyers said their request for more time. “The objections and amicus briefs raise a host of issues, including, among other things, the overall fairness of the settlement, multiple constitutional attacks on the settlement and proposed advisory science panel, technical challenges to the notice program, attacks on the fairness of the compensation fund, and challenges to predominance, superiority, and the adequacy of class (and subclass) counsel.”

The lawyers who filed the proposed plan said they could use the additional time before the hearing “to engage with objectors” to “streamline or narrow the issues that need to be contested at the hearing.”

Deaths continue

Amid the arguments over Bayer’s proposed settlement, plaintiffs continue to die. In what is referred to as a “Suggestion of Death,” lawyers for plaintiff Carolina Garces filed a notification with the federal court on March 8 that their client had died.

Several plaintiffs suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma have died since the start of the litigation in 2015.

Bayer makes new $2 billion plan to head off future Roundup cancer claims

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Monsanto owner Bayer AG said Wednesday it was attempting again to manage and resolve potential future Roundup cancer claims, laying out a $2 billion deal with a group of plaintiffs’ attorneys that Bayer hopes will win approval from a federal judge who rejected a prior plan last summer.

Notably, the deal calls for Bayer to seek permission from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to add information on the labels of its glyphosate-based products such as Roundup that would provide  links to access to scientific studies and other information about glyphosate safety.

Additionally, according to Bayer, the plan calls for establishment of a fund that would compensate “qualified claimants” over a four-year program; setting up an advisory science panel whose findings could be used as evidence in potential future litigation; and development of research and diagnostic programs for medical and/or scientific research into the diagnosis and treatment of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The plan must be approved by U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Chhabria has been overseeing the Roundup multidistrict litigation.

Bayer said qualifying class members over the next four years would be eligible for levels of compensatory awards based on guidelines set forth in the agreement. The “settlement class” refers to people who were exposed to Roundup products but have not yet filed a lawsuit claiming injury from that exposure.

Settlement class members would be eligible for compensation between $10,000 and $200,000, Bayer said.
According to the agreement, the distribution of the settlement fund would break out as follows:
* Compensation Fund – At least $1.325 billion
* Diagnostic Accessibility Grant Program – $210 million
* Research Funding Program – $40 million
* Settlement Administration Costs, Advisory Science Panel Costs, Settlement Class Notice Costs, Taxes,
and Escrow Agent Fees and Expenses – Up to $55 million
The proposed settlement plan for future class action litigation is separate from the settlement agreement Bayer made with lawyers for tens of thousands of plaintiffs who have already brought claims alleging exposure to Roundup and other Monsanto glyphosate-based weed killers caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Bayer has been struggling to figure out how to put an end to the Roundup cancer litigation since buying Monsanto in 2018. The company lost all three trials held to date and lost the early rounds of appeals seeking to overturn the trial losses.
Juries in each of the trials found not only that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer but also that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

A death and a settlement as Bayer continues trying to end Roundup litigation

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Seven months after Bayer AG announced plans for a sweeping settlement of U.S. Roundup cancer litigation, the German owner of Monsanto Co. continues to work to settle tens of thousands of claims brought by people suffering from cancer they say was caused by Monsanto’s weed killing products. On Wednesday, one more case appeared to find closure, though the plaintiff did not live to see it.

Lawyers for Jaime Alvarez Calderon, agreed earlier this week to a settlement offered by Bayer after U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria on Monday denied summary judgment in favor of Monsanto, allowing the case to move closer to a trial.

The settlement will go to Alvarez’s four sons because their 65-year-old father, a longtime winery worker in Napa County, California, died just over a year ago from non-Hodgkin lymphoma he blamed on his work spraying Roundup around winery property for years.

In a hearing held in federal court Wednesday, Alvarez family lawyer David Diamond told Judge Chhabria that the settlement would close out the case.

After the hearing, Diamond said Alvarez had worked in the wineries for 33 years, using a backpack sprayer to apply Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides to sprawling acreage for the Sutter Home group of wineries. He would often go home in the evenings with clothing wet with herbicide due to leaks in the equipment and weed killer that drifted in the wind.  He was diagnosed in 2014 with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, undergoing multiple rounds of chemotherapy and other treatments before dying in December 2019.

Diamond said he was happy to settle the case but has “400 plus” more Roundup cases still unresolved.

He is not alone. At least half a dozen other U.S. law firms have Roundup plaintiffs they are seeking trial settings for in 2021 and beyond.

Since buying Monsanto in 2018, Bayer has been struggling to figure out how to put an end to the litigation that includes more than 100,000 plaintiffs in the United States. The company lost all three trials held to date and has lost the early rounds of appeals seeking to overturn the trial losses. Juries in each of the trials found that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides do cause cancer and that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

In addition to efforts to resolve claims currently pending, Bayer also hopes to create a mechanism for resolving potential claims that it could face from Roundup users who develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the future. Its initial plan for handling future litigation was rejected by Judge Chhabria and the company has yet to announce a new plan.

New glyphosate papers point to “urgency” for more research on chemical impact to human health

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Newly published scientific papers illustrate the ubiquitous nature of the weed killing chemical glyphosate and a need to better understand the impact exposure to the popular pesticide may be having on human health, including the health of the gut microbiome.

In one of the new papers, researchers from the University of Turku in Finland said that they were able to determine, in a “conservative estimate,” that approximately 54 percent of species in the core of the human gut microbiome are “potentially sensitive” to glyphosate. The researchers said they used a new bioinformatics method to make the finding.

With a “large proportion” of bacteria in the gut microbiome susceptible to glyphosate, the intake of glyphosate “may severely affect the composition of the human gut microbiome,” the authors said in their paper, which was published this month in the Journal of Hazardous Materials.

The microbes in the human gut include a variety of bacteria and fungi and are believed to impact immune functions and other important processes. Unhealthy gut microbiomes are believed by some scientists to contribute to a range of diseases.

“Although data on glyphosate residues in human gut systems are still lacking, our results suggest that glyphosate residues decrease bacterial diversity and modulate bacterial species composition in the gut,” the authors said. “We may assume that long-term exposure to glyphosate residues leads to the dominance of resistant strains in the bacterial community.”

The concerns about glyphosate’s impact on the human gut microbiome stem from the fact that glyphosate works by targeting an enzyme known as 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS.) This enzyme is critical to the synthesizing of essential amino acids.

“To determine the actual impact of glyphosate on the human gut microbiota and other organisms, further empirical studies are needed to reveal glyphosate residues in food, to determine the effects of pure glyphosate and commercial formulations on microbiomes and to assess the extent to which our EPSPS amino acid markers predict bacterial susceptibility to glyphosate in in vitro and real-world scenarios,” the authors of the new paper concluded.

In addition to the six researchers from Finland, one of the authors of the paper is affiliated with the department of biochemistry and biotechnology at Rovira i Virgili University, Tarragona, Catalonia, in Spain.

“The consequences for human health are not determined in our study. However, based on previous studies… we know that alterations in the human gut microbiome may be connected to several diseases,” University of Turku researcher Pere Puigbo said in an interview.

“I hope that our research study opens the door to further experiments, in-vitro and in the field, as well as population-based studies to quantify the effect the use of glyphosate has on human populations and other organisms,” Puigbo said.

Introduced in 1974

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup herbicides and hundreds of other weed killing products sold around the world. It was introduced as a weed killer by Monsanto in 1974 and grew to become the most widely used herbicide after Monsanto’s introduction in the 1990s of crops genetically engineered to tolerate the chemical. Residues of glyphosate are commonly found on food and in water. Consequently, residues are also often detected in the urine of people exposed to glyphosate through either diet and/or application.

U.S. regulators and Monsanto owner Bayer AG maintain there are no human health concerns with glyphosate exposure when the products are used as intended, including from residues in the diet.

The body of research contradicting those claims is growing, however. The research on the potential impacts of glyphosate on the gut microbiome is not nearly as robust as the literature associating glyphosate to cancer, but is an area many scientists are probing.

In a somewhat related paper published this month, a team of researchers from Washington State University and Duke University said that they had found a correlation between the levels of bacteria and fungi in the gastrointestinal tracts of children and the chemicals found in their homes. The researchers did not look at glyphosate specifically, but were alarmed to find that children with higher levels of common household chemicals in their bloodstream showed a reduction in the amount and diversity of important bacteria in their gut.

Glyphosate in urine

An additional scientific paper published this month underscored a need for better and more data when it comes to glyphosate exposure and children.

The paper, published in the journal Environmental Health by researchers from the Institute for Translational Epidemiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, is the outcome of a literature review of multiple studies reporting actual values of glyphosate in people.

The authors said they analyzed five studies published in the last two years reporting glyphosate levels measured in people, including one study in which urinary glyphosate levels were measured in children living in rural Mexico. Of 192 children living in the Agua Caliente area, 72.91 percent had detectable levels of glyphosate in their urine, and all of the 89 children living in Ahuacapán, Mexico, had detectable levels of the pesticide in their urine.

Even when including additional studies, overall, there is sparse data regarding glyphosate levels in people. Studies globally total only 4,299 people, including 520 children, the researchers said.

The authors concluded that it is not currently possible to understand the “potential relationship” between glyphosate exposure and disease, especially in children, because data collection on exposure levels in people is limited and not standardized.

They noted that despite the lack of solid data about the impacts of glyphosate on children, the amount of glyphosate residues legally allowed by U.S. regulators on food has increased dramatically over the years.

“There are gaps in the literature on glyphosate, and these gaps should be filled with some urgency, given the large use of this product and its ubiquitous presence,” said author Emanuela Taioli.

Children are especially vulnerable to environmental carcinogens and tracking exposure to products such as glyphosate in children is “a pressing public health priority,” according to the authors of the paper.

“As with any chemical, there are multiple steps involved in evaluating risk, which include gathering information about human exposures, so that the levels that produce harm in one population or animal species can be compared to typical exposure levels,” the authors wrote.

“However, we have previously shown that data on human exposure in workers and the general population are very limited. Several other gaps in knowledge exist around this product, for example results on its genotoxicity in humans are limited. The continued debate regarding the effects of glyphosate exposure makes establishing exposure levels in the general public a pressing public health issue, especially for the most vulnerable.”

The authors said monitoring of urinary glyphosate levels should be conducted in the general population.

“We continue to suggest that inclusion of glyphosate as a measured exposure in nationally representative studies like the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey will allow for a better understanding of the risks that glyphosate may pose and allow for better monitoring of those who are most likely to be exposed and those who are more susceptible to the exposure,” they wrote.

Bayer’s Monsanto headache persists

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The migraine that is Monsanto doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon for Bayer AG.

Efforts at settling the mass of lawsuits brought in the United States by tens of thousands of people who claim Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides gave them cancer continue to inch forward, but are not addressing all outstanding cases, nor are all plaintiffs offered settlements agreeing to them.

In a letter to U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, Arizona attorney David Diamond said that representations made by the lawyers leading settlement talks with Bayer on behalf of plaintiffs did not accurately reflect the situation for his own clients. He cited a “lack” of “settlement-related experiences” with Bayer and he requested that Judge Chhabria advance several of Diamond’s cases forward for trials.

“Leadership’s representations regarding settlement do not represent my clients’ settlement
related experiences, interests or position,” Diamond told the judge.

Diamond wrote in the letter that he has 423 Roundup clients, including 345 who have cases pending before Chhabria in the multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Alongside the MDL are thousands of plaintiffs whose cases are pending in state courts.

Diamond’s outreach to the judge followed a hearing late last month in which several of the leading firms in the litigation and lawyers for Bayer told Chhabria they were close to resolving most, if not all, of the cases before the judge.

Bayer has reached important settlements with several of the leading law firms who collectively represent a significant share of the claims brought against Monsanto. In June, Bayer said it would provide $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion to resolve the litigation.

But controversy and conflict have dogged the overall settlement offers.

Several plaintiffs represented by the large firms and who spoke on condition that their names not be used, said they are not agreeing to the terms of the settlements, meaning their cases will be directed into mediation and, if that fails, to trials.

After buying Monsanto in 2018, Bayer has been struggling to figure out how to put an end to the litigation that includes more than 100,000 plaintiffs. The company lost all three of the three trials held to date and has lost the early rounds of appeals seeking to overturn the trial losses. Juries in each of the trials found that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup, do cause cancer and that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

The company’s efforts to resolve the litigation have been stymied in part by the challenge of how to head off claims that could be brought in the future by people who develop cancer after using the company’s herbicides.

Problems Just Keep Mounting

Bayer has threatened to file for bankruptcy if it cannot quell the Roundup litigation and on Wednesday the company issued a profit warning and announced billions in cost cuts, citing a “lower than expected outlook in the agricultural market” amid other factors. The news sent shares in the company tumbling.

In reporting Bayer’s troubles Barron’s noted: “The problems just keep mounting for Bayer and its investors, who by now must be used to regular bouts of disappointing news. The stock has now fallen more than 50% since the Monsanto deal was closed in June 2018. “This latest update only adds to the case for the Monsanto deal being one of the worst in corporate history.”

Roundup cancer trials still a threat to Bayer, but settlement talks progressing

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Lawyers for Monsanto owner Bayer AG and for plaintiffs suing Monsanto told a federal judge on Thursday that they were continuing to make progress in settling sweeping nationwide litigation brought by people who claim Monsanto’s Roundup caused them to develop cancer.

In a video hearing, Bayer lawyer William Hoffman told U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria the company had reached deals – or was close to reaching deals – to resolve more than 3,000 lawsuits that are grouped together in multidistrict litigation (MDL) filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The company separately has already settled thousands of cases outside the MDL, cases that have been proceeding through state courts. But controversy and conflict have dogged the overall settlement offers, with allegations from some plaintiffs’ firms that Bayer reneged on agreements reached months ago, and some plaintiffs’ firms unwilling to agree to what they consider inadequate offers from Bayer.

There was no discussion of those complaints, however,  in Thursday’s hearing, with both sides expressing optimistic views.

“The company has moved forward and finalized several agreements with firms…. we’re also hopefully going to finalize additional agreements in the next several days,” Hoffman told the judge.

“Where we are right now… these figures are somewhat estimates but I think they are reasonably close: There are approximately 1,750 cases that are subject to agreements between the company and law firms and another approximately 1,850 to 1,900 cases that are in various stages of discussion right now,” Hoffman said. “We are working to put in place a program to accelerate discussions and hopefully bring agreements to fruition with those firms.”

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Brent Wisner told the judge it was important to note that there remain a “handful of cases” within the MDL that are not settled yet. But, he said – “We anticipate they will be shortly.”

Judge Chhabria said that given the progress he will continue a stay of the Roundup litigation until November 2 but that he will start moving cases to trial if they are not resolved by that point.

Bayer Bad Dealing Alleged

The cooperative tone expressed in Thursday’s hearing was a far cry from a hearing held last month when plaintiffs’ attorney Aimee Wagstaff  told Judge Chhabria that Bayer was not honoring tentative settlement agreements made in March and intended for finalization in July.

Bayer announced in June that it had reached a $10 billion settlement with U.S. law firms to resolve most of more than 100,000 Roundup cancer claims. But at that time the only major law firms leading the litigation that had final signed agreements with Bayer were The Miller Firm and Weitz & Luxenburg.

The Miller Firm’s deal alone totaled $849 million to cover the claims of more than 5,000 Roundup clients, according to settlement documents.

The  California-based Baum Hedlund Aristei &  Goldman law firm; the Andrus Wagstaff firm from Colorado; and the Moore Law Group of Kentucky had tentative deals but not final agreements.

According to a letter written by Wagstaff filed with the court, Bayer requested repeated extensions until the deal with her firm fell apart in mid-August. After reporting the issues to Judge Chhabria, the settlement talks resumed and were ultimately resolved with the three firms this month.

Some details of how the settlements will be administered were filed earlier this week in a court in Missouri. The Garretson Resolution Group, Inc., doing business as Epiq Mass Tort, will act as the
Lien Resolution Administrator,” for instance, for clients of Andrus Wagstaff whose settlement dollars will need to be used in part or in whole to repay cancer treatment expenses paid by Medicare.

Bayer bought Monsanto in 2018 just as the first Roundup cancer trial was getting underway. It has since lost all three of the three trials held to date and has lost the early rounds of appeals seeking to overturn the trial losses. Juries in each of the trials found that Monsanto’s herbicides do cause cancer and that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

The jury awards totaled well over $2 billion, though the judgments have been ordered reduced by trial and appellate court judges.

Bayer had threatened to file for bankruptcy if no nationwide settlement was reached, according to communications from the plaintiffs’ firms to their clients.

Bayer inks deals with three Roundup cancer law firms as settlement progresses

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Bayer AG has reached final settlement terms with three major law firms representing thousands of plaintiffs who claim exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The new deals have been  made with California-based Baum Hedlund Aristei &  Goldman law firm; the Andrus Wagstaff firm from Colorado; and the Moore Law Group of Kentucky. The firms each filed notification of the deals with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Monday.

The deals come after allegations by the three law firms that Bayer was reneging on terms of agreements already made months earlier. The firms told the court Monday that they each now have a “fully-executed and binding Master Settlement Agreement with Monsanto.”

Notably, the deals mark a critical step toward bringing closure to the five-year-old mass tort litigation that now tallies more than 100,000 claims brought by people from around the United States who used Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides made by Monsanto before they developed cancer.

Bayer bought Monsanto in 2018 just as the first Roundup cancer trial was getting underway. It has since lost all three of the three trials held to date and has lost the early rounds of appeals seeking to overturn the trial losses. Juries in each of the trials found that Monsanto’s herbicides do cause cancer and that Monsanto spent decades hiding the risks.

The jury awards totaled well over $2 billion, though the judgments have been ordered reduced by trial and appellate court judges.

Bayer had threatened to file for bankruptcy if no nationwide settlement was reached, according to communications from the plaintiffs’ firms to their clients.

Bayer announced in June that it had reached a $10 billion settlement with U.S. law firms to resolve most of more than 100,000 Roundup cancer claims. But at that time only two of the major law firms in the sweeping litigation had final signed agreements with Bayer – The Miller Firm and Weitz & Luxenburg, according to sources close to the negotiations. The Baum firm, the Andrus Wagstaff firm and the Moore firm had memorandums of understanding but not final agreements, sources said.

The company’s efforts to resolve the litigation have been stymied in part by the challenge of how to head off claims that could be brought in the future by people who develop cancer after using the company’s herbicides. Bayer tried to get court approval for a plan that would have delayed the filing of new Roundup cancer cases for four years, and would have established a five-member “science panel” to determine whether Roundup can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and if so, at what minimum exposure levels.  If the panel determined there was no causal connection between Roundup and non-Hodgkin lymphoma then the class members would be barred from future such claims.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria rejected the plan,  sending Bayer back to the drawing board.

Bayer had said Thursday that it was making progress in the development of a “revised” plan to resolve potential future Roundup litigation. The details of the revised class plan will be finalized over the coming weeks, according to Bayer.

Several plaintiffs have been unhappy with the settlement, saying they will not receive very much money despite years of expensive cancer treatments and ongoing pain and suffering. Indeed, many plaintiffs have died while waiting for a resolution.

On September 9, lawyers for Marie Bernice Dinner and her husband Bruce Dinner filed notice with the court that 73-year-old Marie died on June 2 from the non-Hodgkin lymphoma she and her husband alleged was caused by her exposure to Monsanto’s weed killers.

Lawyers for Bruce Dinner asked the court to allow them to amend the complaint against Monsanto to add a claim for wrongful death. The couple was married 53 years and have two children and four grandchildren.

“Marie Bernice was an extraordinary person.  Her death should have been prevented,” said lawyer Beth Klein, who is representing the family.

Some U.S. Roundup plaintiffs balk at signing Bayer settlement deals; $160,000 average payout eyed

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Plaintiffs in the U.S. Roundup litigation are starting to learn the details of what Bayer AG’s $10 billion settlement of cancer claims actually means for them individually, and some are not liking what they see.

Bayer said in late June it had negotiated settlements with several major plaintiffs’ law firms in a deal that would effectively close out the bulk of more than 100,000 pending claims against Monsanto, which was purchased by Bayer in 2018. Plaintiffs in the litigation allege they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma from exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup and other herbicides made with a chemical called glyphosate, and that Monsanto covered up the risks.

While the deal initially seemed like good news for the plaintiffs – some who’ve struggled for years with cancer treatments and others who sued on behalf of deceased spouses – many are finding they could end up with little to no money, depending upon a range of factors. The law firms, however, could pocket hundreds of millions of dollars.

“It’s a win for the law firms and a slap in the face of the harmed” said one plaintiff, who did not want to be named.

Plaintiffs are being told they must decide in the next few weeks if they’re going to accept the settlements, even though they won’t know how much they will personally be paid until much later. All the settlement deals order the plaintiffs not to talk publicly about the details, threatening them with sanctions if they discuss the settlements with anyone other than “immediate family members” or a financial advisor.

This has angered some who say they are considering rejecting the settlements in favor of seeking out other law firms to handle their claims. This reporter has reviewed documents sent to multiple plaintiffs.

For those who do agree, payments could be made as early as February, though the process of paying all the plaintiffs is expected to stretch out a year or more. Communications sent out from law firms to their Roundup clients sketch out both the process each cancer-stricken individual will need to go through to obtain a financial payout and what those payouts might amount to. The terms of the deals vary from law firm to law firm, meaning similarly situated plaintiffs may end up with vastly different individual settlements.

One of the stronger deals appears to be one negotiated by The Miller Firm, and even that is disappointing to some of the firm’s clients. In communications to clients, the firm said it was able to negotiate roughly $849 million from Bayer to cover the claims of more than 5,000 Roundup clients. The firm estimates the average gross settlement value for each plaintiff at roughly $160,000. That gross amount will further be reduced by the deduction of attorneys’ fees and costs.

Though attorneys’ fees can vary by firm and plaintiff, many in the Roundup litigation are charging 30-40 percent in contingency fees.

To be eligible for the settlement, plaintiffs must have medical records supporting diagnosis of certain types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and be able to show they were exposed at least a year before their diagnosis.

The Miller Firm has been at the forefront of the Roundup litigation since the outset, unearthing many of the damning internal Monsanto documents that helped win all three Roundup trials held to date. The Miller Firm handled two of those trials, bringing in lawyers from the Los Angeles firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman to help with the case of  Dewayne “Lee” Johnson after Miller Firm founder Mike Miller was severely injured in an accident just prior to trial. The two firms additionally worked together in winning the case of husband-and-wife plaintiffs, Alva and Alberta Pilliod.  Johnson was awarded $289 million and the Pilliods were awarded more than $2 billion though the trial judges in each case lowered the awards.

Earlier this month, a California appeals court rejected Monsanto’s effort to overturn the Johnson verdict, ruling that there was “abundant” evidence that Roundup products caused Johnson’s cancer but reducing Johnson’s award to $20.5 million. Appeals are still pending in the other two verdicts against Monsanto.

Scoring Plaintiffs

To determine how much each plaintiff receives from the settlement with Bayer, a third-party administrator will score each individual using factors that include the type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma each plaintiff  developed; the plaintiff’s age at diagnosis; the severity of the person’s cancer and the extent of treatment they endured; other risk factors; and the amount of exposure they had to Monsanto herbicides.

One element of the settlement that caught many plaintiffs off guard was learning that those who ultimately receive money from Bayer will have to use their funds to pay back part of the costs of their cancer treatments that were covered by Medicare or private insurance. With some cancer treatments running into the hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars, that could quickly erase a plaintiff’s payout. The law firms are lining up third-party contractors who will negotiate with the insurance providers to seek discounted reimbursements, the plaintiffs have been told. Typically in this sort of mass tort litigation, those medical liens can be substantially reduced, the law firms said.

In one aspect of the deal welcomed by plaintiffs, the settlements will be structured to avoid tax liability, according to the information provided to plaintiffs.

Risks in Not Settling

The law firms must get a majority of their plaintiffs to agree to the terms of the settlements in order for them to proceed. According to the information provided to plaintiffs, settlements are desired now because of a number of risks associated with continuing to pursue additional trials. Among the risks identified:

  • Bayer has threatened to file for bankruptcy, and if the company did take that route, settling Roundup claims would take far longer and likely ultimately result in far less money for plaintiffs.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a letter last August telling Monsanto that the agency won’t allow for a cancer warning on Roundup. That helps Monsanto’s future chances of prevailing in court.
  • Covid-related court delays mean additional Roundup trials are unlikely for a year or more.

It is not unusual for plaintiffs in mass tort litigation to walk away disappointed even with seemingly large settlements negotiated for their cases.  The 2019 book “Mass Tort Deals: Backroom Bargaining in Multidistrict Litigation” by Elizabeth Chamblee Burch, the Fuller E. Callaway Chair of Law at the University of Georgia,  makes the case that a lack of checks and balances in mass tort litigation benefits nearly everyone involved except the plaintiffs.

Burch cites as an example litigation over the acid-reflux medicine Propulsid, and said she found that of the 6,012 plaintiffs who entered into the settlement program, only 37 ultimately received any money. The rest received no payouts but had already agreed to dismiss their lawsuits as a condition of entering into the settlement program. Those 37 plaintiffs collectively received little more than $6.5 million (roughly $175,000 each on average), while the lead law firms for the plaintiffs received $27 million, according to Burch,

Setting aside what individual plaintiffs may or may not walk away with,  some legal observers close to the Roundup litigation said a greater good has been achieved with the exposure of corporate wrongdoing by Monsanto.

Among the evidence that has emerged through the litigation are internal Monsanto documents showing the company engineered the publishing of scientific papers that falsely appeared to be created solely by independent scientists; the funding of, and collaborating with, front groups that were used to try to discredit scientists reporting harm with Monsanto’s herbicides; and collaborations with certain officials inside the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect and promote Monsanto’s position that its products were not cancer-causing.

Several countries around the world, as well as local governments and school districts, have moved to ban glyphosate herbicides, and/or other pesticides because of the revelations of the Roundup litigation.

(Story first appeared in Environmental Health News.)

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