Monsanto Hammered Again in Roundup Litigation, This Time for More Than $2 Billion

Monsanto liability grows: The enormous award  by a California jury to a couple who claim that  the Monsanto weed-killer Roundup caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma might not stick, but it sure sends a strong message. In the third such case to be found in favor of Roundup users since August, the jury awarded more than $2 billion in punitive and compensatory damages. That amount is likely to be reduced, and Monsanto parent company Bayer is appealing all three verdicts. The company once again pointed to the fact that federal regulators take no issue with Roundup or its active ingredient glyphosate, saying, “The contrast between today’s verdict and (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s) conclusion that there are ‘no risks to public health from the current registered uses of glyphosate’ could not be more stark.” But the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, has determined the herbicide is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Bayer’s stock price has fallen more than 40 percent since it acquired Monsanto in June. The latest jury award is one of the largest ever in a product-defect case, increasing pressure on the company to change course and consider a settlement, according to Bloomberg. “When the company’s lawyer asked a juror after the verdict what the panel wanted to hear from Bayer,” Joel Rosenblatt reports, “the juror responded that he wanted proof the chemical was safe: ‘I wanted you to get up and drink it.'”

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Not just skin-deep: Sunscreen is important. But given the amount we slather on each summer (or should), sunscreen safety matters, too. There’s been some indication in the past that sunscreen doesn’t just sit on the skin. It’s absorbed into the bloodstream. Now researchers have verified that it soaks in after just one day of use as recommended. A study in the journal JAMA tested the blood of 24 people divided into four groups, each using a different commercially available sunscreen. It found plasma concentrations of the sunscreens’ active ingredients that exceeded an FDA threshold for waiving toxicology tests.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that the products are unsafe (though scientists have found that one of those active ingredients, oxybenzone, is harming coral reefs). What it means is that they are in our bodies, and we don’t know whether they’re safe. Of particular concern is use of sunscreens on children, who may have a higher rate of absorption, according to an editorial accompanying the study, co-authored by former FDA commissioner Robert Califf. The study comes just as the FDA is pushing sunscreen manufacturers to provide more safety information. Meanwhile, there are safer options. The Environmental Working Group has been publishing a guide to sunscreen safety for years.

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‘A wicked problem’: Since about 2007, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has been dramatically increasing. That’s notable for a couple of reasons. Methane is an incredibly powerful greenhouse gas, trapping about 86 times as much heat as carbon dioxide. And no one can explain exactly why the change has happened. Jonathan Mingle tells a fascinating (if terrifying) story for Undark about the vastness of the problem and the depth of the mystery.

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Ho-hum: Are we desensitized to school shootings? Or worse, has the nation simply lost interest? Have we accepted an outrageous event as commonplace, as Scott Simon of NPR says we have? A gunman opened fire in a classroom at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte on April 30. On that day and the three following, the fatal shooting received less than 43 minutes of cable news coverage on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. Total. That’s according to the progressive nonprofit Media Matters for America.

  • Also: Alex Yablon of The Trace looks at what’s at stake for the NRA as the New York Attorney General and lawmakers investigate its nonprofits status. Spoiler: A lot. –– Leaked internal documents are further complicating that picture for the NRA. They show lavish spending by CEO Wayne LaPierre and high legal fees. 
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Plastic pact: The United States wasn’t among the 187 countries that signed on to an agreement meant to limit the movement of plastic waste across national borders, but the pact will still apply here, as the countries it trades with were signatories, CNN reports. The pact is intended to make countries more accountable for the waste they produce and to incentivize efforts to reduce it.

  • Also: Plenty of people are tracking their plastic waste these days and writing about it, but this piece from Meg Atteberry in Outside noted something interesting. She collected her plastic waste over a month and found that much of it, “granola bar wrappers, chip bags, polybags, and more — could all be traced back to weekends in the wild.” –– Investors are pressuring fossil fuel giants to be more accountable for their production of tiny pellets, known as nurdles, that are used to make most plastic products and that are polluting the oceans at a massive scale, InsideClimate News reports.
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Tax prep fraud?: Financial regulators in New York are investigating Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, along with H&R Block and two other tax preparation companies, in the wake of an investigation by ProPublica into how the companies deliberately pushed customers away from the free services they are contracted by the federal government to provide and into paid services. “The companies hid their free offerings from Google, and Intuit lied to some customers who sought refunds in the wake of the reporting,” Justin Elliott of ProPublica writes. The New York state Department of Financial Services served subpoenas last week.

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Hot job: The U.S. Department of Labor can hold employers accountable when workers are injured or die on the job as a result of heat stroke or other effects of excessive heat. But there is no specific standard on how and when to do so, and advocates have been campaigning for such a rule. They say the vagueness is a problem, for workers and for companies, especially as climate change produces more extreme working conditions, writes Marjie Lundstrom of FairWarning.

  • Also: OSHA has cited Spirit Aerosystems for repeated and serious violations and proposed $193,218 in penalties after investigators found the company, based in Wichita, Kansas, failed to prevent worker exposure to hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen that can also cause asthma and damage the kidneys, liver and respiratory system. –– Remodeling contractor Stettinius Construction faces proposed penalties of $26,142 after a worker fell to his death at a Naples, Florida, work site. Investigators found the company did not provide proper fall protection equipment or train workers to recognize fall hazards. –– An inspection prompted by a worker complaint found that mail hampers, tubs and packages blocked exit routes at a U.S. Postal Service office in Ankeny, Iowa, and that employees weren’t trained in emergency procedures. The USPS faces $184,694 in proposed penalties.

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What’s worth more?: Union representation or a new gaming system? Negotiating power or “a night out watching football with your buddies”? Delta executives hope they can convince workers there are better ways to spend their money than on union dues, at least according to images of anti-union posters circulating online that have raised more than a few eyebrows. A Delta spokeswoman wouldn’t confirm their authenticity but said, “Delta has shared many communications, which on the whole make clear that deciding whether or not to unionize should not be taken lightly.” Eli Rosenberg of The Washington Post reports that the posters seem to be just the latest move by a company with a history of aggressive pushback against unionization.

  • Also: WSP USA Services has paid nearly $2.8 million in back wages to 6,450 employees after the Federal Emergency Management Agency failed to properly update the terms of a contract, causing the company to underpay workers performing housing inspections after hurricanes and other disasters in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, Florida, Georgia and California. –– TT&L Sheet Metal of Beaverton, Oregon, must pay $98,461 in back wages to 51 employees after investigators found that the company failed to properly calculate employee work time when determining when overtime was due, according to a press release. –– Kingfisher Systems has paid $342,334 in wages and fringe benefits to 45 employees after investigators found that it improperly calculated prevailing wages under federal contracts to provide information technology support work at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.

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