OAKLAND – Plaintiffs Alva and Alberta Pilliod testified in an Oakland courtroom last week, claiming that the common weed killer Roundup was a substantial factor in causing them both to contract non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Alva was the first one to be diagnosed with cancer in 2011. Just four years later his wife, Alberta, was diagnosed with the same cancer. Both are in their 70s.
“The doctor gave me 18 months to live at most,” she told the jury in the Alameda County Superior Court.
The Pilliod trial is the third high-profile case against Monsanto in which a plaintiff has alleged that the company’s product caused their cancer and failed to warn of the dangers posed by its active ingredient glyphosate.
In what was an emotional testimony, Alberta described the pain and anguish that she has been through over the last four years as she has battled her cancer and the effect that non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has had on her life.
“It’s kind of embarrassing the way I walk now,” she said. “I wobble all over. I’m dizzy all the time. I fall a lot.”
The couple claims that they used up to a gallon of Roundup per week around four separate residential properties over the course of 30 years – finally stopping in 2016 after coming across an article that stressed the potential dangers of glyphosate, linking products with the ingredient to the same rare form of cancer that they both had.
“I read articles about non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and found a common denominator,” explained Alva. “It was the weed killer we were using. I was quite worried about it.”
A key focus within the trial has been the idea of dermal dose exposure and response. Plaintiffs’ attorneys Michael Miller and Brent Wisner have stressed the notion that the more the product is used, the higher the glyphosate dosage and, in the end, the higher the chemical response.
Both attorneys have continued to allege that every week their clients were “getting a dose of glyphosate.”
Expert witness Dr. Dennis Weisenburger grabbed headlines earlier in the trial when he claimed cancer risks rise at an alarming rate with the kind of steady dose of Roundup that the Pilliods were subjected to for 30 years.
“Your risk is increased two-fold for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma if you used it more than two days per year,” said Weisenburger, chair of the pathology department of the City of Hope Medical Center. “The more you used it, the more your risk is increased. Being exposed a little bit didn't increase your risk, but being exposed more increased your risk.”
That opinion, however, was not allowed into evidence at a bellwether trial that concluded last month in federal court in San Francisco. U.S. District Vince Chhabria described it as "junk science."
Nonetheless, plaintiff Edwin Hardeman prevailed at trial and was awarded $80.5 in damages on March 27.
Bayer, which acquired Monsanto last year, has maintained that its product is safe and needs no warning label. In a recent marketing effort in wake of two lost lawsuits with thousands of other cases to follow, the company vowed transparency.
“Bayer welcomes a science-based discussion with regulators around the globe, the international research community, as well as with consumers on the safety profile of glyphosate,” the company said April 8 in a statement. “To that end, all 107 Bayer-owned glyphosate safety study reports that were submitted to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as part of the substance authorization process in the European Union (EU) are now accessible on Bayer’s dedicated transparency platform.
"In doing so, the company delivers on its commitment to more transparency, including its crop protection safety studies following the acquisition of Monsanto. Many of these and other similar studies were submitted to and evaluated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during its own risk assessment of glyphosate,” it said.
The trial will continue this week as Monsanto’s attorneys will get a chance to bring in their expert witnesses for testimony in the company’s defense. The case is expected to last into early May.
The company was hit with another huge verdict in California state court last year, initially awarding plaintiff Dewayne Johnson $289 million, of which $250 million was in punitive damages. The judge later slashed the award to $78 million - $39 million in compensatory and $39 million in punitive damages.