SAN FRANCISCO – A trial involving Monsanto's Roundup is taking shape as each side continues to hone their arguments.
The question at hand is whether Roundup, or rather the amount of glyphosate that it contains, is responsible for plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Hardeman’s case, under way at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, is the second high-profile battle between defendant Bayer, which acquired Monsanto last year, and similar accusations that resulted in a $78 million win for terminally ill groundskeeper Dewayne Lee Johnson last year.
Bayer maintains that glyphosate-based herbicides have been commonly used for decades and are not only safe for use, but also have science to prove it.
Those limitations involved discussion of how Bayer’s scientific theories and conclusions are possibly skewed by manipulation.
At trial on Monday, tensions were not as high as plaintiff and defendant were able to work through a wide range of topics, beginning with whether or not a two-gallon Roundup sprayer would be allowed inside the courtroom for demonstration purposes.
Chhabria ruled that the plaintiff would be allowed to show the jury exactly how Hardeman used the sprayer for 26 years around his 56-acre Northern California property.
“The plaintiff’s not allowed to spray you with the sprayer,” joked Chhabria to the defendant's attorneys.
Chhabria next brought up the point that specific causation experts have the right to discuss that a steady amount of exposure over the course of 26 years brings greater risk than low level, short-term exposure, possibly making some short-term scientific studies absolute.
One of those causation experts set to take the stand is Dr. Dennis Weisenburger, chair of the pathology department of the City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte. He has specialized in the studies of the hematopoietic and immune systems, with a special interest in non-Hodgkins lymphoma for nearly four decades, according to his official bio.
“We should lay the ground rules for Dr. Weisenburger, and the ground rules are…he can say, in part of his general causation opinion, that there is a dose response. The greater the exposure, the greater the risk,” said Chhabria. “The floor is irrelevant.”
This led to the question of how the toxin may or may not have been absorbed into Hardeman’s body and just what the difference between exposure and absorption really is.
“I do think there’s a difference between exposure and absorption,” said Chhabria. “That is a basic point that I’m not sure I’m getting.
“You’ve got your three pillars of the science; you’ve got the epidemiology, you’ve got the animal studies and you’ve got the mechanism – none of that seems to be tied into the issue of absorption."
Chhabria is leaving it up to the plaintiff and defendant to make sense of the absorption aspect one way or another, leaving all possibilities wide open for all three of those scientific pillars to come into play throughout the trial.
The controversial trial is set to continue over the course of the next month and is expected to be the first of three bellwether cases that are going to pave the way for resolving thousands of claims across the country.
Chhabria will preside over 625 of them.
The 49-year-old California native was nominated to office by President Barack Obama in 2013 and assumed office in March of 2014.