Christine Sheppard wants two things: for agrochemical giant Monsanto to stop selling its Roundup weed killer, and for the company to apologize. Ever the realist, Sheppard doesn’t believe she will ever get the latter.
“I know Monsanto is going to fight this to the bitter end,” she says.
Christine wants Monsanto to stop selling Roundup herbicide because she believes that exposure to glyphosate causes cancer, specifically non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She is one of more than 800 plaintiffs to file a Roundup cancer lawsuit against Monsanto, alleging the company has long known about the herbicide’s link to cancer yet failed to warn consumers about the risk. Plaintiffs’ attorneys expect thousands will join the legal battle against Monsanto before the end of the year.
From 1996 until 2004, Christine and Kenneth Sheppard sprayed Roundup on the couple’s coffee farm in Hawaii, believing the weed killer to be safe. In 2003, Christine went to see a doctor after her right leg “swelled up enormously.” After an ultrasound was performed, she was told that she had stage IV large-cell lymphoma.
“Why me?” she wrote in an editorial for the Kona Coffee Farmers’ Association years after her diagnosis.
This year, roughly 72,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The disease will likely kill around 20,000 in 2017, according to the American Cancer Society.
For over a decade, Christine had no idea what may have caused her to develop cancer. In 2015, she saw a report published by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) on glyphosate, one of the key ingredients in Roundup.
The IARC report concluded that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen, and the cancers most associated with exposure to the chemical are non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other hematopoietic cancers. The report further concluded that glyphosate exposure can cause DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells, as well as genotoxic, hormonal and enzymatic effects in mammals.
“I was incensed,” Christine said after learning about the IARC report. “We had no idea.”
Plaintiffs in Monsanto Litigation Allege Glyphosate Causes Cancer
The next phase of discovery in the Monsanto litigation is expected in October. Thus far, plaintiffs’ attorneys have unearthed thousands of pages of court documents that appear to show a cozy relationship between Monsanto and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Plaintiffs’ attorneys are still learning more about Jess Rowland, a former Deputy Director of the EPA’s pesticide division. Court documents have revealed that Rowland, who was once in charge of evaluating the cancer risk associated with Roundup for the agency, allegedly bragged to a Monsanto executive in 2015 that he “should get a medal” if he could kill another government agency’s investigation into whether or not glyphosate causes cancer.
Rowland also chaired the Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC) at EPA, and helped author a controversial report on glyphosate that Monsanto has often pointed to in supporting its claim that the chemical is safe. The CARC report found that glyphosate is not likely to cause cancer in humans. Rowland left EPA shortly after the CARC report was leaked.
On April 24, Rowland was scheduled to sit for a deposition to answer questions about his relationship with Monsanto and his post-EPA career. At the outset of the deposition, Rowland’s attorney wouldn’t let him answer questions related to his career after leaving EPA, saying “it’s unrelated to the chemical industry.”
However, after the judge in the case compelled Rowland to answer questions related to his current work, Rowland identified three companies for whom he has performed consulting work since leaving EPA. Almost unbelievably, he confirmed that he is working for three chemical companies, three companies are “close associates of Monsanto,” and that his work for them concerns chemicals.
Court documents found in discovery have also shown that Monsanto may have ghostwritten scientific papers on Roundup. An internal email from Monsanto executive William F. Heydens appears to suggest that the company could keep costs down by rubber stamping research on glyphosate, then hiring academics to sign the papers.
“We would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit and sign their names so to speak,” Mr. Heydens wrote. In the same email, Heydens cited a previous instance in which the company had previously done this.
The Life of a Roundup Cancer Plaintiff
As the Roundup cancer litigation continues, Christine Sheppard is trying to manage her health and wellbeing to the best of her ability. This means that she has been forced to avoid traveling and being in crowded places because her weakened immune system.
“If I get sick, I get sick for a long, long time,” she told CNN.
She endures grueling chemotherapy sessions that have taken away much of her mobility, and is forced to rely on pain killers ever few hours to avoid terrible screaming pain.
“There’s no cure. Eventually, I will probably end up fairly immobilized,” she says.
Since her diagnosis, the Sheppards were forced to sell their coffee farm in Hawaii and move to California, where Christine has more access to the treatment that she needs. But that treatment is expensive, and in order to cover the costs, she has depleted her savings. This is why she and many others are suing Monsanto alleging that glyphosate causes cancer; to hold the company accountable and to make sure other people aren’t forced to endure what she has endured.
“They didn’t take away my life, thank goodness,” says Christine, “but they took away our dreams, our savings.”