Did weed killer Roundup cause cancer in Sonoma County resident Edwin Hardeman?
It was Christmas morning in 2014 when Sonoma County resident Edwin Hardeman looked in the mirror and saw a big lump on the side of his neck.
Within two months, he’d been diagnosed with a cancer of the blood called non-Hodgkin lymphoma and began chemotherapy treatment.
Today, Hardeman is at the center of a closely watched trial in U.S. District Court in San Francisco where he is up against the company that makes Roundup, the weed killer he routinely used for about three decades that he believes gave him cancer.
Hardeman’s case is the first of three bellwether trials that, if the juries decide in favor of the plaintiffs, could establish settlement standards for thousands of pending lawsuits across the country against Roundup manufacturer Monsanto, a branch of the Germany-based conglomerate Bayer, alleging a key ingredient is making people sick.
“You have this one man right there in Sonoma, and by luck of the draw his case has the potential to move the needle,” said UC Hastings professor David Levine, a close watcher of the case. Federal jurors Tuesday will hear closing arguments in a first phase of Hardeman’s trial.
They will decide whether testimony from doctors, Hardeman and other evidence presented by his team of lawyers supported his claims that the glyphosate-based product is carcinogenic and that using it contributed to his illness.
If the jury verdict goes in his favor, Hardeman will then be able to present evidence toward his allegations that Monsanto presented its popular weed killer as a safe product while concealing research that may have provided the public with information about its potential health risks.
He is asking for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
The herbicide maker is facing an avalanche of lawsuits from people claiming Roundup has caused cancer and other health problems. A Bayer spokesman said there are about 11,200 cases in both state and federal courts, and noted that “is not indicative of the merits of the litigation.”
In what’s been described as the first Roundup case to go to trial, a San Francisco jury awarded $289 million in damages last year to a former school groundskeeper with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after finding Monsanto failed to warn him about the potential health hazards from using Roundup, which he did over years as part of his job.
A judge reduced the damages to $78 million, and Monsanto has appealed the decision.
In response to questions from The Press Democrat, a Bayer spokesman said the company contends “none of the science presented at trial — epidemiological, animal or mechanistic — supports the conclusion that glyphosate or the Roundup formulation was a substantial cause” of the plaintiff’s cancer.
The company defended its herbicide as safe to use based on “extensive science over four decades.”
“While we have great sympathy for Mr. Hardeman, Bayer stands strongly behind these products and will vigorously defend them,” company spokesman Daniel Childs said.
Hardeman couldn’t be reached, and his attorneys didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment made over the last week. A representative for the law firm said they are not speaking to the media during the trial.
When Hardeman testified at the federal courthouse in San Francisco last week, he described using Roundup regularly for nearly three decades, first at a Gualala property and then a 56-acre parcel in Forestville he and his wife called home from 1988 until about five years ago.