While Michigan does not have the same agricultural tradition shared by many of its Midwestern neighbors, the state still has a long history with farming. This is a big reason why millions of pounds of a controversial weedkiller have been used in Michigan over the past few decades.
“Roundup” is the world’s most popular weedkiller, and it is also at the heart of a legal controversy surrounding its possible connection to cancer. Upwards of 100,000 lawsuits have been filed against the companies that make Roundup, including here in Michigan, and multiple settlement offers have been proposed.
Not only is roundup the most widely used herbicide or pesticide in U.S. agriculture, it is also a common method used by homeowners, property owners, cities, and towns to control vegetation. What should Michigan residents who were exposed to Roundup know about their risk of cancer and their legal rights to receive compensation for damages?
What Does Roundup Do?
Before being branded as Roundup in the 1970s, glyphosate had long been used in the commercial plumbing industry to help clear scale and calcium buildup from large boilers. A scientist for Monsanto, —the company that also invented saccharin and DDT— discovered that the chemical was an effective herbicide, and in 1974 Monsanto introduced Roundup.
It is believed that glyphosate is such an effective weedkiller because of the way it attacks the structure of plants. As a non-selective herbicide, it kills all plants it comes into contact with by halting production of an enzyme that is crucial for plant growth. This enzyme does not exist in humans or other mammals —something the company has used to deny its potential carcinogenic affect on humans.
The effectiveness of glyphosate helped make Roundup the best-selling weedkiller in history, and since 1974, according to one study, more than 3.5 billion pounds of glyphosate have been used in farming, commercial, and residential applications in the U.S. In Michigan, as in most other U.S. states, glyphosate is one of the most widely used pesticides or herbicides in farming. About 5.2 million pounds were used in Michigan agriculture in 2017 alone, according to estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey.
Here is a closer look at glyphosate and Michigan agriculture:
- Since 1992, nearly 75 million pounds of glyphosate have been applied to Michigan farm fields.
- Michigan ranks No. 17 nationally for glyphosate use in agriculture (5.2 million pounds in 2017, the most recent year for available data), just behind Colorado (5.3 million pounds).
- Glyphosate is the most commonly used herbicide or pesticide in Michigan agriculture —used more than three times the next leading competitor.
- Soybeans accounted for about 73% of the glyphosate used in Michigan farming in 2017, and corn accounted for another 39%.
- An estimated 316 million bushels of corn were produced in Michigan in 2020, the 11th highest production in the country, while the state’s 105-million-bushel haul for soybeans was No. 13 in terms of national output.
Is Roundup Dangerous?
Monsanto, which was purchased by the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer in 2018, has repeatedly argued that its product cannot make people sick, because the mechanism by which it attacks plants does not exist in people. And while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ruled the substance is probably not carcinogenic, juries, researchers, and even other regulators have disagreed.
Roundup and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL)
At the heart of the legal and medical uproar over Roundup is a cancer called non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). In a typical year, this type of cancer accounts for about 4% of all cancer diagnoses, making it relatively uncommon.
The biggest symptoms vary from person to person, and are partly determined by how advanced the disease is. But for Michigan residents who used Roundup and are concerned about their health, here are the biggest things to look for:
- Chest pain
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Swollen abdomen
- Other, unexplained swelling
- Easy bruising
- Frequent, severe infections
- Night sweats
In all three cases that have ended up in verdicts against Roundup and Bayer, the plaintiffs had all been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Additionally, while it’s legal for use in the United States, the weedkiller is banned in many other countries, including Mexico, while cities and towns across the U.S. have said it can’t be used by public workers in parks and other taxpayer-funded spaces.
According to American Cancer Society projections, about 82,000 Americans will be diagnosed with NHL this year, while about 21,000 people suffering from the disease will lose their lives to it. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma has become slightly more common over the past few decades, with rates rising slightly since the 1990s.
When the disease is detected early, survival rates are high (about 73%), but as with most types of cancer, if it is not found until it has spread throughout the body, the chances of survival are lower. Late-stage NHL has a five-year survival rate of about 57%.
A recent study by University of Washington researchers found that glyphosate exposure raises the risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma by about 40%.
If you show any of the above symptoms and believe that you may have developed NHL as a result of exposure to Roundup, you should immediately seek medical treatment.
Senate Bill No. 1207
A bill was introduced in Michigan’s State Senate during the 2020 legislative session that would have banned the use of Roundup and other glyphosate-based weedkillers by homeowners, renters, and for all other residential purposes. In addition to banning the residential use of glyphosate, the bill would have made violators subject to fines of up to $100.
The measure was referred to the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality, but has not been scheduled for a vote as of mid-March 2021.
Michigan would not be alone in determining that glyphosate is unsafe for use, as the California Office for Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has also ruled the weedkiller to be a carcinogen. Since 2015, it has been listed as such by the International Agency for Cancer Risk, a division of the World Health Organization.
What Is the Current Status of Roundup Litigation?
All three Roundup trials that have been completed so far have ended with jury verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs, to the tune of $2 billion in damages. Though appeals resulted in those award amounts being slashed, none of Bayer and Monsanto’s appeals have succeeded in overturning the jurys’ decisions.
In every case, not only did jury members find that there was a link between Roundup and cancer but they also determined that Monsanto executives knew their product was dangerous but failed to warn the public about the risks.
While the company has maintained that the weedkiller is safe and has not made any effort to change how it is formulated, in the summer of 2020, Bayer put forth a $10 billion settlement offer in an effort to end the bulk of the 100,000-plus cases pending. Later, the company proposed setting aside an additional $2 billion to provide settlements for cases that have not been brought yet.
Neither of those settlement offers have been approved yet, but in a separate case related to product labeling, consumers may be eligible for up to $90 in compensation if they purchased Roundup based on the label indicating that it could not possibly harm people or pets because of the lack of the targeted enzyme.
Michigan residents who are eligible are those who purchased Roundup after Feb. 13, 2013.
How Much Can I Get From a Roundup Lawsuit in Michigan?
It is not known how much an individual can expect to receive from a Roundup lawsuit, but negotiations over Bayer’s proposed settlements are ongoing, so it is possible to predict what might happen based on the guidelines the company has suggested.
According to Bayer, the average payout under the $10 billion settlement, which covers cases that have already been filed, would be about $165,000, with some plaintiffs receiving more and others receiving less.
The company has proposed a points system that theoretically would ensure that those who were harmed the worst would receive the highest level of compensation. Only U.S. citizens diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma who used glyphosate for at least a year before they were diagnosed will be eligible.
Here is a look at some of the factors the company has proposed that would increase or reduce points for plaintiffs in the settlement:
- Advanced NHL cases will receive more points.
- Points will also be awarded based on age at diagnosis.
- Survivors of victims who died will receive the highest number of points.
- Survivors of people who died before 2009 who had no spouse or minor children will receive fewer points.
What Should I Do if I Have Been Affected by Roundup?
If you are a resident of Michigan who used Roundup for work or to control weeds around property you own or rent, you should consider stopping use of the product. If you have experienced any of the symptoms above or if you were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup, you may be eligible to receive compensation for your injuries. In order to make sure your rights are considered, you should consult with an expert class-action law firm in Michigan. We can help connect you to a reputable firm in your area.
People in Michigan are no stranger to cases in which companies and powerful interests have polluted the natural environment and taken advantage of people to make money, and many law firms and attorneys across the state have handled dozens of cases like the Roundup class-action lawsuit.
Remember that you probably will not need to pay legal fees unless you win your Michigan Roundup lawsuit, and it is usually free to receive a consultation about your case.