By Ramin Pejan
South Laguna residents are trying to stop the city, through the Laguna Canyon Foundation, from spraying Roundup weedkiller (a formulation using the herbicide glyphosate) along our hillsides, trails and streets. Monsanto, who has produced and sold Agent Orange and DDT, has, for years, urged that Roundup is perfectly safe (just like it did with DDT). Yet, in 2018, Bayer bought Monsanto and announced that they would stop selling Roundup this year to residential gardeners because of the over 100,000 lawsuits against it. Fortune 500 companies don’t retreat on highly profitable products for no reason.
In our effort to stop the spraying of the weedkiller in our neighborhood, we have faced a campaign of misinformation. Laguna Canyon Foundation urges that Roundup is safe and that they take adequate precautions to minimize harm to people and the environment. Recently, a retired chemistry professor wrote a letter to this paper comparing the weedkiller to laundry detergent and claiming it is the only way to deal with many invasive plants. He dismissed a victory by a man who got cancer against Monsanto as fancy lawyering and said there is no possible way to prove cancer was linked to the weedkiller. I presume he was referring to Dewayne Johnson, a school groundskeeper who won a $78 million judgment from Monsanto in 2018 after he developed terminal cancer shortly after being accidentally doused in Roundup. Or maybe Alva and Alberta Pilliod, a couple who won an $86.7 million judgment after using Roundup on their Northern California home for decades and then developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
I don’t blame people for being duped by Monsanto, and now Bayer. Monsanto has orchestrated a malicious and calculated campaign over decades to propel Roundup into the market, to avow its safety, and to smear any opposition. All this is documented in the “Monsanto Papers,” a trove of internal Monsanto documents declassified by litigation. In addition to funding and controlling studies, Monsanto’s internal documents clarify that it systemically discredited any academic studies that found a link between Roundup and cancer, that Monsanto spearheaded a smear campaign against the World Health Organization after it found glyphosate to be probably carcinogenic; that Monsanto scientists ghost-wrote studies and op-eds published by “independent” experts; and that Monsanto intentionally did not undertake a range of health studies on Roundup because it knew the findings would be potentially damning for its star product.
Although Bayer has won some of its weedkiller lawsuits, it has lost many, and after settling over 100,000 lawsuits for around $11 billion in May 2022, it faces over 30,000 more. Just this month, Bayer agreed to settle a case with the state of New York for $6.9 million claiming deceptive advertising, which included statements that Roundup “won’t harm anything but weeds” and “do not pose a threat to the health of animal wildlife,” and YouTube videos (now removed) suggesting that Roundup was safer than detergent. Sound familiar?
Our community is coming together because we don’t want the City to spray Roundup here. If you take out industry-funded or affiliated studies, independent academic science shows that there is a tremendous risk to human health and the environment from Roundup. That is why the World Health Organization, which only looks at non-industry peer-reviewed studies, found glyphosate to be “probably carcinogenic” to humans. That is why Irvine banned the spraying of Roundup on public lands in response to a cluster of 16 pediatric cancer cases. Bayer would not dish out $11 billion if the 100,000 claims had no merit. Laguna Beach simply should not be spraying a product that has over 130,000 cancer-related claims against it.
There are alternatives to manage weeds, including cutting and manual removal. We have seen more and more examples of successful weed abatement without Roundup. Audubon Starr Ranch Conservancy, right here in Trabuco Canyon, has managed invasive species and weeds across 4000 acres with zero glyphosate. Sandy DeSimone, Ph.D., has reduced artichoke thistle at Starr Ranch by 95% in a year, among other successes, though only manual removal! Is it easier to use Roundup? Probably, but that doesn’t make it the best choice.
We are gathering hundreds of signatures from South Laguna residents requesting the Laguna Beach City Council to stop spraying the weedkiller in our community. But our biggest challenge is to fight decades of misinformation about Roundup that continues to deeply influence proponents of this toxic weedkiller in our own community.
If Bayer is pulling Roundup from store shelves, why aren’t we pulling it from the place we live?
Ramin is a South Laguna Civic Association board member and senior attorney at Earthjustice, a nonprofit organization focused on environmental legal matters. The views expressed in this column are made in his personal capacity as a concerned resident of South Laguna, along with Jinger Wallace, Charlotte Masarik, Cindy Love and Ted Reckas.