While the economy of Maryland, like much of the rest of the United States, has become broader and more diverse over the past 100 years, farming remains the single biggest commercial industry in the state.
The industry employs about 350,000 people and contributes more than $8 billion to the economy annually. Agriculture’s remaining importance to Maryland is shining a light on a potential danger to residents from a controversial weedkiller, and in one case, government officials are taking notice.
Glyphosate, better known by the brand name “Roundup,” is the most popular herbicide in the world, used widely for agriculture, residential lawncare, and commercial groundskeeping, and it’s in widespread use across Maryland. But there’s one big problem with that: The weedkiller is also the subject of more than 125,000 class-action lawsuits and multijurisdictional litigations over an alleged link to a type of cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
The chemical is of such concern in Maryland that Baltimore city officials have made glyphosate use within city limits against the law and punishable by a fine of up to $250 for each violation. What should Maryland residents know about Roundup and its active ingredient, the potential negative health effects of exposure, and what legal recourse they may have to seek justice if they used it and became sick?
- What Does Roundup Do?
- Is Roundup Dangerous?
- What’s the Current Status of Roundup Litigation?
- How Much Can I Get From a Roundup Lawsuit in Maryland?
- What Should I Do if I Have Been Affected by Roundup?
What Does Roundup Do?
By definition, herbicides kill plants, and Roundup certainly that. But let’s take a closer look at Roundup’s development process and how its main ingredient, glyphosate, is used in Maryland farming today.
History of Roundup
Glyphosate is a chemical compound that, up until the second half of the 20th century, had mostly been used to clear calcium deposits from large-scale plumbing and heating equipment. But after a scientist working for the Monsanto Corp. discovered it was effective at killing plants, glyphosate took on an entirely new identity.
Missouri-based Monsanto, which also invented other controversial products like saccharin and Agent Orange, patented glyphosate as an herbicide. In 1974, the company began marketing its new chemical formulation under the brand name Roundup.
Before long, Roundup had become the default weedkiller for residential and commercial uses, and Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seed products (crops that were immune to this herbicide) meant the chemical could be used liberally in agriculture.
Roundup & Maryland Agriculture
Roundup is so popular as a weedkiller for residential, commercial, and large-scale weed control that many people say “Roundup” to mean any other brand of weedkiller. But while it is commonly used for these purposes, the single biggest user is the agricultural industry.
According to data from the U.S. Geological Survey, about 3.8 billion pounds of glyphosate have been used in American agriculture since 1992. What does glyphosate use look like in Maryland’s agricultural industry?
- Since 1992, about 21 million pounds of glyphosate have been used in Maryland farming, which is below the national average.
- In 2017, the most recent year for available data, about 1.3 million pounds of glyphosate were used in Maryland agriculture, which represents a 107% increase since 2000.
- Glyphosate is the most widely used pesticide or herbicide in Maryland farming, outselling its top competitor by nearly triple.
- Soybeans account for more than 57% of the glyphosate Maryland farmers use, while corn adds another 37%, and wheat accounts for about 4%.
- Maryland’s agricultural industry accounted for almost 70 million bushels of corn production in 2020, making the state 23rd in the country in terms of output, and it was 21st for soybeans, with about 23 million bushels.
Is Roundup Dangerous?
At the heart of the 125,000 lawsuits and regulatory decisions against Roundup is a growing body of evidence that connects the chemical to a form of cancer. So far, three trials have been concluded, and in each of them, plaintiffs who used Roundup and were later diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma were the recipients of major jury awards.
Researchers at the University of Washington recently found that exposure to glyphosate raises the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma by 41%.
Let’s explore the potential health implications of Roundup and why it has been allowed to remain available for sale, despite these connections.
As with any type of lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) forms when the body’s white blood cells begin to grow out of control. There are several types of lymphoma that are technically categorized under the NHL banner, but they all differ from another common type of lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, which many people call Hodgkin’s disease.
Accounting for about 4% of all cancer cases, it’s estimated that about 82,000 Americans are diagnosed with NHL in a typical year, and tragically, about 21,000 people per year are expected to lose their lives because of it.
Residents of Maryland who used Roundup, especially if they used it frequently over the years, should be on the lookout for a handful of common symptoms. However, it’s important to remember that signs vary by person, and if you are fearful that you may have suffered serious health problems because of Roundup, please contact a doctor so that you can receive a thorough examination.
The most common symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Easy bruising
- Frequent, severe infections
- Night sweats
- Shortness of breath
- Swollen abdomen
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Weight loss
If you or a loved one have experienced these signs after using Roundup for at least a year, and particularly if it’s more than one of these symptoms, contact a doctor right away. While none of us want to receive a cancer diagnosis, the truth is that NHL has a relatively high survival rate if it’s caught in time.
According to American Cancer Society data, nearly three-quarters of NHL patients can expect to live at least five years, but this rate is as high as 84% for people whose cancer is caught early.
Roundup’s Regulatory Status
Despite a potential connection to cancer, glyphosate has as recently as 2020 been reauthorized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use in the United States. The agency has determined that glyphosate is non-carcinogenic, meaning that they believe it does not have the potential to cause cancer.
However, this is not everyone’s belief. In fact, in 2015 the World Health Organization’s cancer research agency designated glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, and the California Environmental Protection Agency does, as well. At the end of 2021, New York is expected to become the first state to ban glyphosate use on state-owned grounds.
Glyphosate Use in Baltimore
As we mentioned earlier, Baltimore city officials recently passed a law that makes it a civil violation to use glyphosate anywhere in city limits, even for residential uses. Agricultural uses are excluded, but the new law, which is expected to take effect in 2022, requires businesses that sell glyphosate-based weedkillers to effectively warn customers that the use of glyphosate is prohibited in the city.
The law also requires anybody applying any authorized pesticides to place markers along the perimeter of the area treated if the area is at least 100 square feet or is within 5 feet of a property line.
Violators can face up to $250 in fines for each offense. Read more about the new law here.
What’s the Current Status of Roundup Litigation?
More than 125,000 lawsuits have been filed so far over Roundup in dozens of states. Of those cases, three have made it through the entire trial phase. All were conducted in California, and each one ended up in jury awards totaling more than $2 billion.
While each jury award was reduced by a judge on appeal, no judge so far has rejected the findings of jury members that Roundup causes cancer and that Monsanto and its parent company, Bayer AG, had been aware of the product’s risks, but did not protect the public.
After suffering those three public humiliations, in 2020 Bayer issued a settlement offer to most plaintiffs. The company proposed setting aside about $10 billion to end most of the pending lawsuits, and the company later said it would offer up to $2 billion for future claims.
It has been reported that most plaintiffs have agreed to the $10 billion settlement terms, though nothing has been finalized yet. Multiple trials are expected to remain in the court process in 2021, and at least one hearing is expected to be conducted on the proposed $2 billion settlement.
Bayer, meanwhile, has continued appealing two of its three losses. In March 2021, the company agreed to drop its appeal in the case of California school groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, the first trial the company lost. It’s not known at this time when Johnson is expected to receive his payment from Monsanto and Bayer.
Labeling Class-Action Settlement
A separate, $40 million class-action settlement has been approved in the case of consumers who sued over confusing and misleading product labeling on Roundup bottles. This settlement has been approved in Maryland and applies to consumers who bought Roundup after Feb. 13, 2015.
Consumers could receive up to $90 in compensation if they purchased Roundup because the packaging indicated that its chemical nature meant that it couldn’t harm people or pets. Because glyphosate works by attacking a plant enzyme, Monsanto and Bayer have argued it can’t possibly be harmful, because people and other mammals don’t make that enzyme.
How Much Can I Get From a Roundup Lawsuit in Maryland?
It’s reasonable to look at the combined jury verdicts exceeding $2 billion and wonder if it might be possible to receive a large sum of money if you used Roundup and were later diagnosed with cancer. But there are several reasons why it’s hard to know exactly what you could expect to receive if you file a Roundup lawsuit in Maryland.
- First, remember that none of the plaintiffs who have secured verdicts so far have received their money, and all the jury awards were reduced on appeal.
- Second, Bayer and Monsanto are still appealing two of those three cases, so it’s possible that one or both could be overturned entirely.
- Third, Bayer has offered a total of about $12 billion to settle most cases and create a system for compensating victims in future cases, but neither of those settlements have been fully approved.
Even if Bayer settled only 90,000 of the 125,000 current cases under the $10 billion settlement (assuming it’s approved) that equates to about $110,000 per person, a far cry from the millions of dollars that could be awarded in the three jury trials.
That said, when it comes to the settlements for both current and future cases, it’s expected that a few factors will increase a victim’s potential settlement amount, including their age, the extent of their cancer, and if the person bringing the lawsuit is the survivor of someone who died from non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
What Should I Do if I Have Been Affected by Roundup?
If you live in Maryland and you used Roundup or glyphosate, even if it’s for your job, you should stop using it. If you have experienced any of the physical symptoms we mentioned earlier, please consult a doctor so you can be examined.
Remember that even though settlement offers are on the table, that does not preclude you from filing a lawsuit over the damages you suffered. The best way to be sure you can seek justice is to speak with an expert Roundup class-action law firm in Maryland. We can help connect you with a firm in your area.
Consultations are usually free, and most victims don’t pay legal fees unless they prevail in their case.