Channel 2 Investigates

Does Roundup kill more than just weeds? Lawsuits claim it also causes cancer

You'll find it in garages, garden sheds and farms across Georgia.

Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland looked into claims that the popular weed killer Roundup causes a rare form of cancer.

Thousands of farmers and consumers have filed lawsuits against its maker, Monsanto.

As some countries continue to evaluate it, several have banned it.

"People have died from it. People will continue to die from it. I'll die from it."

Roundup makes its biggest impact on the farm.

According to a recent study, giant sprayers, like the ones Floyd County farmer Nick McMichen uses, have applied 370,000 tons of the active ingredient, glyphosate, in the U.S., most of it in the past 10 years.

Along with McMichen’s Alabama and Georgia farms, it coats the Midwest and a swath of Georgia's farm belt.

McMichen is using it on a North Georgia cotton field.

“I handle it myself. I spray it in this sprayer on a regular basis,” McMichen said.

He says it’s helped him to reduce the use of multiple chemicals to combat weeds. He calls it revolutionary for farming.

The faces behind the lawsuits

In Swainsboro, Georgia, farmer Bill Hammock used it on his 2,000 acres in south Georgia.

“He would come home and it would be all over his clothes,” his wife, Lisa Hammock, told Jim Strickland.

She is suing Monsanto, blaming the chemical for the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that killed Hammock in 2008.

“There was clots all in his nose and everything. He sucked one of those clots down into his lungs and he choked to death and I had to watch him choke to death,” Hammock said.

It's not just farmers.

“I've been using it since the very early '80s,” John Jenniges of Smyrna told Strickland.

Jenniges still has last the bottle he used around his suburban yard.

The 74-year-old is awaiting his first chemo after being diagnosed last year with mantle cell lymphoma. He's suing Monsanto too.

“People have died from it. People will continue to die from it. I'll die from it,” Jenniges said.

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, determined glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

[READ: IARC report 1 | IARC report 2]

The European Union will decide later in 2017 whether to outlaw its use.

“It's safe as these things come, to humans and to the environment,” UGA crop and weed science professor William Vencill told Strickland.


Vencill says that branding glyphosate as cancer-causing is misleading. He says exposure levels, even on the farm, are relatively low.

“If there was a serious, you know, systemic toxicological issue, it would have exploded by now,” Vencill said.

Monsanto accused of "ghost-writing" safety studies

What has exploded is evidence unsealed in court documents that Monsanto has "ghost-written" scientific studies that proclaim Roundup is safe.

By email, one top-level exec writes about " doing the writing...That is how we handled William, Kroes and Monro, 2000."

[READ: Internal email from Monsanto executive]

That research paper eventually concluded: “Roundup herbicide does not pose a health risk to humans.”

A 30-year EPA toxicologist wrote in 2014: “It is essentially certain glyphosate causes cancer.”

[READ: Letter from EPA toxicologist alleging collusion between Monsanto, EPA evaluators]

Two months ago, the EPA concluded it did not.

"This is an unfair attack on an herbicide that is helping to feed the world."

“Something becomes enormously profitable and soon nothing can get in its way,” Tim Litzenburg told Strickland.

Litzenburg represents more than a dozen Georgians suing Monsanto.

“If they don't tell you what the risks are and they don't tell you what precautions you're gonna have to take, then it's not just misleading, it's deadly. It’s dangerous,” Litzenberg said.

The push for changes

Hammock says a warning label would have made a difference.

“We just didn't know the dangers of it,” Hammock said.

She feels it’s too important to farmers to be taken off the market.

Nick McMichen says a world without Roundup would be hungry.

“I feel like this is an unfair attack on an herbicide that is helping to feed the world,” McMichen said.

"We just didn't know the dangers of it."

Monsanto had agreed to an on-camera interview with global strategies vice president Scott Partridge.

A month after Strickland’s request, the company said Partridge’s schedule would only accommodate a 15-minute phone interview.

During the call, Partridge told Strickland the email in which a Monsanto executive refers to scientists signing their names to Monsanto’s writing was “a poor choice of words.” Partridge says Monsanto contributed to independent scientific research but did not ghostwrite published articles about Roundup. Partridge also said the IARC has also deemed coffee and bacon to be cancer causing, and that 800 studies have backed Roundup’s safety.

Partridge also provided the following statement: “We empathize with anyone facing cancer.  We can also confidently say that glyphosate is not the cause. No regulatory agency in the world considers glyphosate a carcinogen. Still, plaintiffs’ attorneys in the United States have been soliciting plaintiffs for potential lawsuits since an ad hoc working group called IARC incorrectly classified glyphosate. These attorneys are attempting to tie the IARC classification to individual cases of cancer, and they have been running advertisements to recruit plaintiffs. These lawsuits have no merit. IARC’s classification is inconsistent with the overwhelming consensus of regulatory authorities and other experts around the world, who have assessed all the studies examined by IARC – and many more. While IARC’s erroneous classification has attracted media attention and been used repeatedly by certain anti-agriculture organizations to generate unwarranted fear and confusion, regulators around the world continue to support the safe use of glyphosate. In fact, since IARC classified glyphosate, regulatory authorities in the United States, Europe, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Australia have publicly reaffirmed that glyphosate does not cause cancer. Additionally, in May 2016, the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) concluded that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.” On March 15, the European Chemicals Agency concluded another extensive classification review of glyphosate and affirmed that it is not carcinogenic.”

Trial dates on the lawsuits have not been set.