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Daily News Blog

15
Mar

A Pesticide Distributor, an Insurance Company, a Major City, and a Scientific Study Nix Glyphosate (Roundup)

(Beyond Pesticides, March 15, 2019) Beyond Pesticides and others have worked for many years to educate stakeholders and policy makers about the dangers of pesticides, and to transform pest management by eliminating a reliance on toxic pesticides and advancing organic management practices. Considerable focus has been on glyphosate, which is used in several herbicides, most notably in Bayer’s (then Monsanto’s, until its 2018 purchase by Bayer) Roundup. The compound has had a relatively high profile in the pesticide landscape, due in part to the ubiquity of its use, and in part to the tireless work of health and environmental advocates and scientists to expose its risks. With that profile, glyphosate has been a bit of a stand-in for the dangers of pesticides broadly. As journalist Carey Gillam said at Beyond Pesticides’ 36th National Pesticide Forum in 2018, “Glyphosate is the poster child for the bigger pesticide problem. . . . If it goes away tomorrow, we are [still] not okay.”

The variety of risks this compound poses is broad, and pushback and risk evidence on its use come from multiple sides. This Daily News Blog focuses on recent developments on several of those fronts, all of which advanced knowledge and momentum, and could spell more trouble for the future of this toxic herbicide.

First up: Harrell’s is a company that sells chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and “adjuvants and colorants,” among other products, primarily to golf courses, and to the horticulture-nursery, turf, and landscape sectors. The company announced on March 11 that it stopped selling products containing glyphosate as of March 1, 2019 because neither its current insurance company nor others the company consulted would underwrite coverage for the company for any glyphosate-related claims. This follows the successful and landmark glyphosate case in 2018 of DeWayne Johnson v. Monsanto Company. The insurers’ decision also recognizes the additional 8,000+ glyphosate-based suits against manufacturers, sellers, and users that are in queue — many of them aimed at glyphosate’s carcinogenicity. A meta-study in February 2018 concluded that there is a “compelling link between exposures to GBH [glyphosate-based herbicides] and increased risk of NHL [non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma].”

Harrell’s CEO’s statement included this: “During our annual insurance renewal last month, we were surprised to learn that our insurance company was no longer willing to provide coverage for claims related to glyphosate due to the recent high-profile lawsuit and the many thousands of lawsuits since. We sought coverage from other companies but could not buy adequate coverage for the risk we would be incurring. So we had no choice other than to notify our Harrell’s Team and customers that we would no longer offer products containing glyphosate.”

The announcement stands in contrast to what Fox Business identified shortly after the verdict in the Johnson v. Monsanto case. That article reported that, “Top U.S. retailers such as Home Depot, Target, Walmart and Amazon are sticking by Monsanto’s controversial weedkiller Roundup one week after a California jury awarded a school groundskeeper $289 million for proving the spray caused him to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.” Indeed, insurer (and perhaps re-insurer) concern may well increase in light of the firehose of lawsuits glyphosate use has triggered.

This move on insurers’ part is a big deal. Weber Gallagher, a law firm that works on defense for many corporations and industries, anticipated the implications of the 2018 landmark California case when it commented, very shortly after the verdict, in an article on its website titled, “Big Monsanto Loss Signals Glyphosate Litigation Headache for Policyholders, Insurers and Reinsurers.” The concluding text was this: “Without a doubt, like all other mass tort litigation (asbestos, environmental, toxic tort), the issues raised by current and inevitable future glyphosate lawsuits present overwhelming exposures for policyholders, insurers and reinsurers on such key issues such as trigger of coverage, number of occurrences, allocation of loss and the insurability of punitive damages. One only has to ask regarding who is going to pay for last month’s Monsanto verdict to understand the enormity of the issue.” If this is the first in a series of dominoes to fall, it could spell disaster for Bayer’s product.

The next development of note adds to the scientific evidence of functional health impacts of glyphosate in mammals. A recent study by Fabiana Manservisi, Corina Lesseur, et al., published in Environmental Health on March 12, investigated impacts of glyphosate-based herbicides on development and endocrine systems in rats. Two groups of Sprague Dawley rats (a variety commonly used in research) were exposed to the rat equivalent of the U.S. human ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake) of, respectively, glyphosate or a glyphosate-based herbicide (such as Roundup), beginning in utero and continuing through adulthood. Impacts of exposures at these “safe” levels nevertheless induced endocrine impacts (e.g., distorted hormone levels) and anomalous reproductive morphology (with a skew toward androgen-like effects in both sexes, but especially in females). Of particular note is that exposure to the glyphosate formulation (Roundup Bioflow) evinced more, and more-pronounced, effects than glyphosate itself. The study adds to the evidence that exposure to glyphosate, particularly in the matrix of other ingredients in formulations such as Roundup, is associated with endocrine disrupting and reproductive impacts.

Finally, on March 1 the City of Miami established a ban, which went into immediate effect, on the use of any glyphosate-based herbicides (including Roundup compounds) by the city and any of its contractors. This follows an earlier proscription by the city of glyphosate use in any city or contracted landscape and maintenance activities; it also follows bans by other Florida cities, including Miami Beach and Stuart, that have already stopped the use of glyphosate products.

One of Miami’s City Commissioners, Ken Russell, commented on the move: “Water quality issues are so important to the city of Miami, and we can be one of the worst polluters as a municipality. We ask for residents to make a change in their habits and that they be conscious of what they put in their gardens, but when I realized the totality of what the city uses at any given time, we had to change our habits.” Local water advocacy group Miami Waterkeeper lauded the move, saying, “Banning the use of glyphosate is a great first step to take in improving water quality. It is also beneficial to public health, as citizens of the city of Miami won’t be exposed to harmful chemicals.”

Pesticides and herbicides, including the extremely popular glyphosate-based Roundup compounds, represent health risks beyond direct and indirect terrestrial exposures; they also get into waterways. Water quality is a huge issue in much of Florida, given its extensive coastline, low-lying land mass, and extremely high water table. Much of the state’s drinking water sources, as well as its ocean waters, are under assault from a variety of threats, including: agricultural runoff of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers (the last of which contribute mightily to toxic algal blooms from excess nutrients dumped into freshwater bodies or oceans); use of pesticides and herbicides to manage turf (parks, playing fields, and — this being Florida — golf courses); and dumping of partially or poorly treated sewer effluent into the ocean, contributing to the development of so-called “dead zones” offshore — areas of low-oxygen caused by nutrient pollution from human activity. A year ago, the Florida Legislature approved a plan to allow the dumping of “treated” sewage into the Biscayne aquifer — the primary source of Miami’s drinking water. The hurdles to improved public health and environmental integrity are very often political.

Momentum in the effort to constrain use of glyphosate-based herbicides — in the wake of the landmark California decision and the many other pending suits, and the mounting scientific evidence of the dangers of glyphosate — may be gaining. Beyond Pesticides will continue to monitor developments, which are easy to track via its Daily News Blog and its journal, Pesticides and You. Though the transition to a system of pest management that does not rely on toxic chemicals likely represents a slog against the entrenched and monied chemical industry, calls to restrict or eliminate glyphosate’s use are mounting nationally and globally, and recent developments may signal that glyphosate’s days are numbered. Beyond Pesticides will work tirelessly for its final elimination from use and a transition to pest management approaches that do not threaten human or environmental health.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: https://www.turfnet.com/news.html/harrells-discontinues-sale-of-products-containing-glyphosate-r1196/ and https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-019-0453-y#Sec16 and https://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/city-of-miami-bans-use-of-herbicides-containing-glyphosate-11100953

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