From its inception as one of the original 13 U.S. colonies, North Carolina’s agricultural sector has been a huge source of revenue for the state. Today, farming accounts for almost $92 billion in economic output in a typical year. About 17% of all jobs in the state are tied to farming, which is one reason why many people in North Carolina are concerned about their exposure to a weedkilling substance commonly used in farming, called “Roundup.”
Also known by its main ingredient, glyphosate, Roundup is a popular weedkiller not just in farming but in residential, commercial, and municipal lawncare. But the product is also at the heart of about 125,000 class-action lawsuits that claim it causes cancer.
What should North Carolina residents know about Roundup, its potential negative health effects, and what recourse they may have to seek justice if they were harmed by Roundup weedkiller?
- What Does Roundup Do?
- Is Roundup Dangerous?
- Roundup’s Regulatory Status
- What Is the Current Status of Roundup Litigation?
- How Much Can I Get From a Roundup Lawsuit in North Carolina?
- What Should I Do if I Have Been Affected by Roundup?
What Does Roundup Do?
Today, Roundup is the most widely used herbicide in history, but it didn’t start out that way. Let’s explore what Roundup does, including how it was developed, and what negative health effects to watch out for.
History of Roundup
For decades, glyphosate was used as a de-scaling agent, making it especially popular in commercial heating and plumbing thanks to how effectively it removed calcium buildup from boilers, pipes, and other equipment.
But in the early 1970s, a Monsanto scientist discovered that glyphosate not only was an effective de-scaling agent, but that it was also lethal to plants. So, in 1974, Monsanto, the company that famously invented the artificial sweetener saccharin, patented glyphosate as a non-selective herbicide and began selling it under the name Roundup.
Scientific studies of glyphosate’s effects on plants have determined that it is so effective because it targets the development of an enzyme necessary for plant growth. Without it, plants quickly die, and because this enzyme does not exist in humans or mammals, it has been the conventional wisdom that Roundup cannot possibly do damage to people or pets.
Roundup & North Carolina Agriculture
The average person reading this right now probably has a bottle or two of Roundup tucked away in their garage or storage shed. That would not be surprising, considering that Roundup is the best-selling herbicide in history. It is used by homeowners, landscapers, and groundskeepers on small to medium scales, but its biggest application is in the agricultural industry.
How widely used is it in North Carolina and across the country when it comes to farming? According to the U.S. Geological Survey, about 75 million pounds of glyphosate have been used in North Carolina agriculture since 1992.
Let’s take a closer look at farming and glyphosate in North Carolina:
- Since 1992, 71.9 million pounds of glyphosate have been used on North Carolina farm fields—ranking it the 18th state in the country, in terms of extent of use.
- In 2017, the most recent year for available data, about 2.6 million pounds of glyphosate were used in North Carolina agriculture, which represents an 81% increase since 2000.
- Glyphosate is the second most used herbicide or pesticide in North Carolina agriculture, behind chloropicrin, which is largely used in tobacco production. North Carolina leads the nation in tobacco production by pounds.
- Corn (26%) and soybeans (57%) account for a combined 83% of all glyphosate used in North Carolina, while cotton accounts for about another 14%.
- North Carolina ranks ninth for cotton production at 580,000 bales in 2020, 17th in soybeans at 61.2 million bushels, and 19th in corn at 110 million bushels.
Is Roundup Dangerous?
If Roundup is dangerous, why is it so widely used? The answer to whether Roundup is dangerous depends on the source. Cancer victims who have sued Monsanto and its parent company, Bayer, would certainly say yes, while these corporations would say no.
But it is important to note that each of the three cases that so far have proceeded to trial have ended in verdicts in which jury members found that not only had Roundup caused the plaintiffs’ cancer, but that Monsanto knew all along it was selling a dangerous product.
Let’s look at the regulatory status of Roundup, as well as the health effects that plaintiffs have experienced.
What Is Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL)?
In all three cases that have gone to trial so far and in the bulk of class-action and multijurisdictional litigation Monsanto is facing, plaintiffs are alleging that they used or were exposed to Roundup and were later diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)—a form of cancer.
NHL, like all lymphomas, forms in the body’s white blood cells, but it can spread to many parts of the body. There are multiple forms of lymphoma that fall under the NHL label, and they are different from another well-known type of lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, which is often called “Hodgkin’s disease.”
According to the American Cancer Society, about 4% of all cancer cases are NHL cases, and an estimated 82,000 Americans are diagnosed every year. Deaths from NHL are estimated at about 21,000 per year.
A North Carolina resident who used or was otherwise exposed to glyphosate or Roundup should pay special attention to their body for the following symptoms, though signs of NHL can vary from person to person:
- Chest pain
- Easy bruising
- Frequent, severe infections
- Night sweats
- Shortness of breath
- Swollen abdomen
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Weight loss
If you have experienced any of these symptoms and especially if you’re experiencing multiple symptoms on this list, please contact your doctor right away. Survival rates for NHL are relatively high, especially if the disease is caught early. Before it has spread, about 73% of non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients survive for at least five years, but that rate falls to just 57% for NHL that has spread throughout the body.
In addition to jury verdicts that link non-Hodgkin lymphoma with Roundup, academic studies in recent years have also found this link. In fact, a University of Washington study found that exposure to glyphosate increased NHL lymphoma risk by 40% or more.
Roundup’s Regulatory Status
The status of Roundup in the U.S. is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists it as non-carcinogenic, but the states of California and New York, many communities across the country, and international groups have differing views. Even the EPA at one time had determined Roundup use to be risky.
Between 1985 and 1992, the EPA formally listed glyphosate as a possible carcinogen, but the agency changed its mind. Since then, it has regularly determined that glyphosate is non-carcinogenic, meaning it is unlikely to cause cancer.
However, the cancer arm of the World Health Organization has listed glyphosate as a probable carcinogen since 2015, and the state of California’s environmental protection agency does the same. New York is set to be the first state to ban Roundup on state-owned grounds, assuming a law passed last year is not challenged in court, and many other cities, counties, and towns across the country have implemented restrictions or bans.
Glyphosate is banned in Mexico, and German lawmakers are considering phasing out agricultural use of the chemical.
What Is the Current Status of Roundup Litigation?
To date, three cases have proceeded to trial among the 125,000 or so, and all three have been verdicts in favor of plaintiffs. In addition to jury members agreeing with allegations that Roundup causes cancer, they have further found that Monsanto executives had long been aware the product was dangerous, but did nothing to change it or protect the public.
Jury awards have totaled more than $2 billion combined, but all three were reduced on appeal. What has not changed in the appeals phase is any finding of fact that Roundup is dangerous or that Monsanto hid the risks from the public.
The three straight, headline-making losses are being credited with Bayer’s offer of a total of $12 billion to settle current and future cases. Negotiations are ongoing over both settlement offers, and pending cases, including Bayer’s appeals in all three verdicts, are continuing to wind their way through the court system.
Labeling Class-Action Settlement
A settlement in a separate class-action lawsuit has been approved in North Carolina and most other states. This case relates to misleading labeling on the Roundup bottles that caused consumers to purchase the weedkiller when they otherwise wouldn’t have.
North Carolina residents who purchased Roundup after Feb. 13, 2015 could be eligible for an estimated $90 in compensation. This is because of wording on the product label indicating that it was not possible for Roundup to harm people or pets because it attacks a plant enzyme.
How Much Can I Get From a Roundup Lawsuit in North Carolina?
With a combined $2 billion in jury verdicts from just three trials, it is reasonable to think it might be possible to seek justice to the tune of millions of dollars if you used Roundup and got sick. But there are a few reasons that the reality is a bit murkier than that.
First, all the verdicts have been reduced on appeal, so none of those plaintiffs will see anything close to their original jury verdicts. Second, Bayer and Monsanto are continuing their efforts to get the verdicts overturned altogether. So, those plaintiffs are in a waiting game.
We do know from Bayer’s proposed settlement that existing Roundup lawsuits in North Carolina and beyond could see victims compensated by an average of $165,000, though awards will depend on individual circumstances.
Additional money is expected to go to survivors of those who died after using Roundup, and the highest amounts will be set aside for families of non-Hodgkin lymphoma victims who left behind a spouse or children who were under 18 when their parent or parents died.
Other enhancing factors are expected to include age at diagnosis and extent of disease.
What Should I Do if I Have Been Affected by Roundup?
If you live in North Carolina and have used Roundup or glyphosate, you should stop using the product if possible, even if the use is related to your job. If you have used it for years or you are experiencing any of the physical signs we outlined above, please seek an examination by a doctor.
For those who have used Roundup and have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, there is still time to seek compensation for the damage done to you and your family. In addition to the settlement offer that would end most of the cases already filed, Bayer and Monsanto have proposed setting aside billions to compensate plaintiffs in future cases.
The best way to determine your legal course of action is to speak with an expert Roundup class-action law firm in North Carolina, and we can help connect you with a firm in your area.
Consultations are usually free, and you likely won’t pay any legal fees unless you win your case.