Monsanto, the maker of the herbicide Roundup, has argued that junk science led to the jurys ruling on the chemical called glyphosate in the Johnson v Monsanto trial. Photograph: Jeff Roberson/AP
Given their age and cancer diagnoses, their lawyers have argued they have a right
to a speedy trial. Monsanto, however, has opposed the request, and a hearing on the matter is set for Tuesday.
The couple, who have two children and four grandchildren, used Roundup from the 1970s until a few years ago around their yard and on multiple properties they purchased and renovated. The couple said they chose the herbicide because they believed it wouldnt be harmful to the deer, ducks and other animals that roamed their property. They were also sure it was safe for themselves.
We are very angry. We hope to get justice, Alberta told the Guardian, noting that they didnt use protective gear when they sprayed and would not have used Roundup the way they did if they knew the risks. If we had been given accurate information, if we had been warned, this wouldnt have happened.
Alva said the cancer had destroyed their lives: It has been a miserable few years.
Their lawyers hope to go to trial before its too late. Albertas doctors have said she has substantially high risk for recurrence, has deep brain lesions from the cancer and is likely to die if she does relapse.
We are not going to be silent
The Pilliods and other plaintiffs taking on the company have long argued that Monsanto led a prolonged campaign of misinformation to convince government agencies, farmers and the general public that Roundup was safe.
Attorneys have cited internal Monsanto records that they say demonstrate how the company has manipulated and corrupted the scientific record with respect to the herbicides safety. The scrutiny has escalated in recent weeks.
On 26 September, the prominent scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology issued an
expression of concern, saying that its published research finding glyphosate to be safe had not fully declared Monsantos involvement.
The high-profile correction came after litigation revealed that the company was involved in
organizing and editing article drafts. Monsanto was linked to a scientific review that countered a crucial 2015 International Agency for Research on Cancer classification of glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen.
More evidence could emerge at forthcoming trials about Monsantos questionable involvements in scientific papers, plaintiffs attorneys said.
A Bayer spokesman, Utz Klages, said in an email that the number of cases filed was not indicative of the merits of the litigation. He called glyphosate a breakthrough for modern agriculture and cost-effective tool that can be used safely to control a wide range of weeds.
Regulatory reviews and scientific studies have demonstrated that glyphosate is safe and not a cause of NHL, he said, adding: The Johnson verdict is not final and concerns a single, specific case.
John Barton, a California farmer who used Roundup for decades and was diagnosed with NHL in 2015, said he was eager to go to trial, especially since Monsanto and Bayer were still telling the public that glyphosate was safe.
Monsanto needs to realize that we are not going to be silent any more, said Barton, a third-generation farmer, who is part of a California lawsuit filed by the Baum Hedlund firm, which represented Johnson. We are not going to roll over and play dead People should be warned that this stuff is everywhere and we should be careful of this product.
Barton, 69, said he also feared that his three sons could get sick due to their Roundup exposure.
My dad exposed me to this. He never wouldve done that if he knew it was dangerous, he added. I have this guilt that I may have endangered my own sons.
John Barton, a plaintiff, has non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian
Deborah Brooks described NHL as torture, recounting her husband lying on towels on the floor trying to stop endless nosebleeds and the constant illnesses that plagued him while his immune system suffered.
Nobody should have to go through that. It takes life in such a terrible way, said Brooks, whose husband was 72 years old when he died. Im fighting for the honor of my husband and all the others that have come before and will come after My heart goes out to those victims who dont know theyre victims.
Bayer declined to comment about the Brooks or Barton cases. A spokeswoman, Charla Lord, said in an email that because the Pilliods are both in remission and there was no indication of any imminent cancer recurrence, the company is arguing that an early trial date was not warranted.
Legal experts said it was possible the Johnson appeal could lead to a reduced monetary award. The courts could also find that there was insufficient evidence to prove that glyphosate causes cancer or that attorneys failed to demonstrate that the herbicide caused Johnsons cancer.
Those outcomes could be devastating for Johnson and a setback for those fighting glyphosate. But cancer patients and families across the country will be able to push forward regardless of what happens in San Francisco, said David Levine, a University of California Hastings law professor.
Even if Monsanto gets a complete victory here, its not going to stop other plaintiffs.
Carey Gillam is a journalist and author, and a public interest researcher for US Right to Know, a not-for-profit food industry research group