By Miguel Leyva of Atraxia Law
Many farmers think they are in excellent physical health. As an illustration, here is the story of one farmer from California’s Imperial Valley. This is a man who worked hard every day, ate well and had perfect annual physicals. He didn’t think he had any cause for concern. Until one day in 2012.
While spraying a glyphosate-based herbicide on his field, he stopped to check the level in the sprayer tank. When looking inside, he lost control of his legs and passed out. He was later hospitalized for several months with asthma, muscle aches and insomnia. The diagnosis he received was that of occupational asthma.
Although his doctor told him to leave agriculture, he failed to switch to another occupation. His life and that of his family were too involved in this field. In 2016, after having a small lump on his neck checked out by his health care provider, he received other unexpected news: he had stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
NON-HODGKIN’S LYMPHOMA AND GLYPHOSATE
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of the most common cancers in the U.S.1 It’s a blood cancer that occurs when the body produces too many lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that is part of the immune system.
While tackling his cancer head-on, the farmer read about people who were diagnosed with cancers and have a history of exposure to carcinogens. That’s when he found out about the mechanisms to identify the connection between exposure to glyphosate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and explore proper compensation.
Not all cancers have clear causes. In most cases, it can take years or even decades before occupationally induced cancers are diagnosed. However, injuries can still be assessed and compensation should be paid if there is some verifiable glyphosate-related injury that contributed to the disease. In many cases, there is little doubt that some exposures in the past have left people with a cancer diagnosis that would not have otherwise occurred.
Glyphosate, a derivative of glycine, the amino acid that the human body uses to create proteins, is a broad-spectrum herbicide and desiccant. It entered the market in 1974 and has since become the most commonly and intensively used herbicide worldwide.2
When considering the issue of glyphosate exposure, there are some specific occupations that most people immediately think of. Gardening and farming are examples where glyphosate-based herbicides are commonly used.3
Glyphosate is mixed with other chemicals to constitute glyphosate-based herbicides used in agricultural fields and home gardens. These include products marketed under the trade names Roundup and RangerPro and manufactured by Monsanto—acquired in 2018 by Bayer Crop Science.
Many farmers and gardeners are seeking damages for their cancers by bringing lawsuits against Monsanto/Bayer. They are people from around the U.S. who claim that the glyphosate present in Roundup can cause cancer and that the manufacturer tried to cover up the risks. In part, this is because Roundup has been promoted as having extremely low toxicity and as one of the safest of all herbicides ever brought to market—nothing that farmers, gardeners and groundskeepers need worry about.
What began as a trickle of worry has widened into a flood of outrage against the manufacturer and the regulators who deemed the weed killer safe. Roughly one thousand five hundred thirty-three legal cases targeting Roundup have been filed since 2015. Plaintiffs in several of the lawsuits make the allegation that the manufacturer covered up signs of harm associated with glyphosate and even promoted falsified data.
GLYPHOSATE-RELATED DISEASES: A COMMON STORY FOR FARMERS
The Imperial Valley farmer’s experience is not uncommon. Other people in the U.S. have had to face multiple health crises due to glyphosate exposure.
“It’s a common story for many farmers,” says Miguel Leyva, a case manager at Atraxia Law, a firm that offers consumer safety paralegal services for patients throughout the U.S. Leyva constantly interviews farmers, landscape professionals, golf course green-keepers and private homeowners who were exposed to glyphosate and contracted non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
That’s how he found that health risks from glyphosate exposure have multiple ramifications. He hears stories like the farmer’s almost every week. “That is a theme globally,” he says. “People had multiple health problems after using glyphosate. Some had prior health problems before their diagnosis with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”
Another farmer, this time from California’s Central Valley, suffered nausea, headaches and temporary paralysis of his left arm from exposure to glyphosate. He dreaded spraying herbicides because he knew he would feel rotten for a month after. He was slowly being poisoned. His health problems culminated with a cancer diagnosis.
Yet another farmer started having questions after hospitalization for herbicide poisoning and before a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He breathed in the mist from the herbicide Roundup while he was spraying his field. He couldn’t get his breath and was just about choking. He was hospitalized for a week, and the doctor told him he was lucky.
In an effort to combat these toxic effects, many farmers in the U.S. are reducing pesticide use and switching to organic farming methods. The warnings that glyphosate and herbicide exposure could be contributing to a range of diseases and ailments, a health crisis they had or even the death of a family member is leading them to shun pesticide use on their farms and grow certified organic grains and seeds. After switching to organic methods, some of the farmers who were lucky enough to have experienced only mild health symptoms from glyphosate exposure have reported visible improvements in their state of health.
STUDIES ON EFFECTS OF GLYPHOSATE EXPOSURE
According to a 2019 review,4 people exposed to the highest amounts of glyphosate have a 41 percent greater risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Forty-one percent may even be an underestimate, as the data the researchers analyzed were collected through 2010, and glyphosate use has increased since then. The review examined several studies on glyphosate’s potential carcinogenic effects, including a large sample of farmworkers in the United States.
Additional research on the health effects of glyphosate exposure has started to link the substance to other diseases as well, including:
- Celiac disease and gluten intolerance5
- Neurological diseases such as autism, depression, anxiety syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and prion diseases due to glyphosate depletion of manganese levels in plants6
- Diabetes, obesity, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lupus, infertility, hypertension, glaucoma, osteoporosis, fatty liver disease and kidney failure due to glyphosate substitution for conserved glycines7
- Autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease and neuromyelitis optica.8
Although the rising levels of herbicide use should move public health agencies and regulators to action, these entities seem to be expending little effort to study the human health impacts of glyphosate. Without these herbicides, many could have safer occupations and would not have to fight for financial, medical and rehabilitation benefits after sustaining chemical-exposure-related injuries or illnesses.
Atraxia Law (atraxialaw.com) is a team of experts who work with patients and family members to analyze and organize relevant information about their situation and qualifications for an injury claim, helping them navigate the process required for legal actions.
- American Cancer Society. Key statistics for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/non-hodgkin-lymphoma/about/key-statistics.html.
- Benbrook CM. Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally. Environ Sci Eur. 2016;28(1):3.
- Guyton KZ, Loomis D, Grosse Y, et al. Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorvinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate. Lancet Oncol. 2015;16(5):490-491.
- Zhang L, Rana L, Shaffer RM, et al. Exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides and risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma: a meta-analysis and supporting evidence. Mutat Res. 2019;781:186-206.
- Samsel A, Seneff S. Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. Interdiscip Toxicol. 2013;6(4):159-184.
- Samsel A, Seneff S. Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases III: manganese, neurological diseases, and associated pathologies. Surg Neurol Int. 2015;6:45.
- Samsel A, Seneff S. Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases V: amino acid analogue of glycine in diverse proteins. Journal of Biological Physics and Chemistry. 2016;16:9-46.
- Samsel A, Seneff S. Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases VI: prions, amyloidoses and autoimmune neurological diseases. Journal of Biological Physics and Chemistry. 2017;17:8-32.