Ken Moll is girding for battle.
Moll, a Chicago-based personal injury attorney, has dozen of lawsuits pending against the former Monsanto Co., all alleging the company’s Roundup weed killers cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and he is now preparing several of those cases for trial.
Moll’s firm is one of a handful that have refused settlement offers made by Monsanto owner Bayer AG, deciding instead to take the fight over the safety of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide products back into courtrooms around the country.
Though Bayer has assured investors it is bringing closure to the costly Roundup litigation through settlement deals totally more than $11 billion, new Roundup cases are still being filed, and notably several are positioned for trial, with the earliest set to start in July.
“We’re going forward,” Moll said. “We’re doing this.”
Around the world, the deadly dangers of a weedkiller called paraquat are well known. When working with the highly toxic herbicide, farmers and other users take care not to splash or spill even small amounts of the product, heeding regulatory warnings that just a tiny amount – if swallowed – will kill them.
“If you ingest just three drops of paraquat you’re going to die,” said the US farmer Cameron Peirce who uses the chemical sparingly in his fields of canola and mung beans in Kansas.
Switzerland, the home base of the paraquat maker Syngenta, has banned the chemical since 1989, and it has been banned for use in the EU since 2007, because of paraquat’s deadliness.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows only restricted use of the pesticide in the United States by people certified and trained to apply it, such as landscapers and farmers. And the agency warns users on a government website that “one sip can kill”. Paraquat warning labels carry the symbol of death – a skull and crossbones.
Paraquat exposure is also believed by some scientists to cause Parkinson’s disease, and Syngenta is facing litigation on that issue – though it denies responsibility.
Still, many countries allow wide use of paraquat, and the toll from paraquat poisonings is estimated at well into the thousands. The low cost and high toxicity makes paraquat a popular poison for people trying to kill themselves. Syngenta says it is just one of 377 companies worldwide that have registered paraquat for sale.
But now, internal corporate documents, obtained by a US law firm and provided to the Guardian, detail how the need for a safer formulation of Syngenta’s popular Gramoxone paraquat-based product has been the subject of in-depth company discussions for decades. Years of analysis and debate over the issue are laid out in the records, as are arguments about the accuracy of data presented to regulators, and strategies to avoid regulatory bans.
The documents, which date back to 1968, show that Syngenta and its predecessor corporate entities rejected or resisted many different options for changes to the formulations of Gramoxone, due, at least in part, to a desire to protect profits.