by Carey Gillam
Two New York City council members introduced legislation today that would ban city agencies from spraying glyphosate-based herbicides and other toxic pesticides in parks and other public spaces.
The move is the latest in a groundswell of concern over pesticide use, particularly exposures to weed killing products developed by Monsanto, which is now a unit of Bayer AG. Cities, school districts and suppliers across the U.S. are increasingly halting use of the pesticides.
It is also a further sign that a growing number of people – consumers, educators, business leaders and others - are rejecting assurances from Monsanto and Bayer that glyphosate herbicides such as Roundup are safe for widespread use.
Bayer has recently taken out large advertisements in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times and has been running television and Internet ad campaigns to defend the safety of its weed killing products. But concerns continue to mount.
"Parks should be for playing not pesticides," said New York City council member Ben Kallos, a co-sponsor of the measure. "All families should be able to enjoy our city parks without having to worry that they are being exposed to toxic pesticides that could give them and their families cancer."
The New York City measure would prohibit the application of synthetic pesticides within 75 feet of a natural body of water. And it would encourage city agencies to move to the use of biological pesticides, which are derived from naturally occurring substances rather than synthetic substances.
Glyphosate is commonly used in New York City, sprayed hundreds of times a year onto public greenspaces to treat weeds and overgrowth. Kallos told EHN he fears letting his young daughter play in famed Central Park because of the dangers of pesticide exposure.
Science, public awareness grow
Glyphosate is the world's most widely used herbicide and is the active ingredient in not only Roundup brands but also hundreds of others sold around the world.
Since patenting glyphosate as a weed killer in 1974, Monsanto has always asserted it does not cause cancer and is much safer for people and the environment than other pesticides.
But scientific research developed over the last several decades has contradicted those corporate claims. Concerns escalated after the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015.
More than 11,000 cancer victims are suing Monsanto alleging exposure to Roundup and other glyphosate products the company sells caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The lawsuits also claim the company has long known about the cancer risks but has worked to keep that information from the public, in part by manipulating scientific data relied on by regulators.
The first two trials have ended in unanimous jury verdicts in favor of plaintiffs. A third trial is underway in California now.
Kallos is hoping that public awareness generated by the trials will drive support for his bill. A similar measure introduced in 2015 failed to gather enough support to pass.
"The science gets stronger and stronger every day, and public interest around the issue is getting stronger," said Kallos.
Latest effort to limit or ban
The effort in New York is just one of many around the United States to ban or limit applications of glyphosate products and other pesticides.
City commissioners in Miami voted in favor of a ban on glyphosate herbicides in February. In March, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors issued a moratorium on glyphosate applications on county property to allow for a safety evaluation by public health and environmental experts.
The list of school districts, cities and home owners groups that have banned or limited the use of glyphosate and other similarly hazardous pesticides includes many in California where the state's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) lists glyphosate as a known carcinogen.
This week, a group of Leesburg, Virginia, residents called on the town's officials to stop using glyphosate along area stream banks.
Some large suppliers have also started backing away from glyphosate products. Harrell's, a Florida-based turf, golf course and agricultural product supplier, stopped offering glyphosate products as of March 1.
Harrel's CEO Jack Harrell Jr. said the company's insurance provider was no longer willing to provide coverage for claims related to glyphosate, and the company was unable to secure adequate coverage from other insurers.
Costco has stopped selling Roundup—a corporate spokesperson says that they've removed the product from inventory for 2019. Salespeople at various stores contacted confirmed that they no longer offer the products.
And large independent garden center company Pike Nurseries in Georgia said earlier this month it is not restocking Roundup supplies due to declining sales.
The shunning of Monsanto's products has not been helped by global publicity surrounding the first three Roundup cancer trials, which have placed internal Monsanto emails and strategic planning reports into the public spotlight and elicited testimony about the company's handling of sensitive scientific concerns about perceived hazards of its herbicides.
In the trial currently underway, a case brought by a husband and wife who both have non-Hodgkin lymphoma they blame on their use of Roundup, evidence was introduced last week about the ease with which the weed killer can absorb into human skin.
Evidence was also laid out showing that Monsanto worked closely with the Environmental Protection Agency to block a toxicity review of glyphosate by a separate government agency.
The current trial, and the two previous trials, have all included evidence that Monsanto engaged in ghostwriting certain scientific papers that concluded glyphosate products were safe; and that Monsanto spent millions of dollars on projects aimed at countering the conclusions of the international cancer scientists who classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.
Bayer's annual shareholders meeting is set for April 26 and angry investors are calling for answers from Bayer CEO Werner Baumann who drove the acquisition of Monsanto, closing the $63 billion deal just before the first Roundup cancer trial started last June.
The company maintains glyphosate herbicides are not carcinogenic and it will ultimately prevail.
But Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Tom Claps has warned shareholders to brace for a global settlement of between $2.5 billion and $4.5 billion. "It's not a matter of 'if' Bayer will reach a global Roundup settlement, it is a matter of 'when,'" Claps told investors in a recent report.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria has ordered Bayer to enter into mediation, to discuss just such a potential settlement of the Roundup litigation.