The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has permanently banned county departments from using a controversial weed killer linked to cancer in several lawsuits.
“With environmental and health concerns as top priority, the Board of Supervisors has put a permanent ban on glyphosate-based products,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said in a statement issued Monday. “We are awaiting a report back from our county departments at the end of the year that will determine alternatives and any circumstances where alternatives are not viable.”
Roundup, an easily obtainable herbicide sold in hardware stores and once used by most municipalities, contains glyphosate, a chemical that is either banned or restricted in communities in 13 states, including California.
On Monday, Maria A, Katas, Caltech director of housing, said the school will stop using “pesticides” and is committed to any needed clean-up efforts after complaints surfaced that the school used a generic version of Roundup at a school housing site. The Pasadena Star-News on Sunday reported the pesticide was sprayed at Caltech.
That news came two months after the Board of Supervisors directed the Department of Public Works, in conjunction with County Counsel, the Departments of Public Health, Parks and Recreation, Beaches and Harbors, and the Agricultural Commission to convene a panel of experts that could hire a consultant to explore options for vegetation management, especially in areas where the use of traditional alternatives to glyphosate-based products is problematic due to challenges with access, safety and habitat restoration.
The board, which voted for the ban on May 21, will also continue to solicit recommendations from the public on possible alternatives to the use of glyphosate-based products for vegetation management.
The departments will report back to the supervisors with recommendations and any feasible alternatives for the control of vegetation within 180 days.
In March, the Board of Supervisors first approved a motion by Barger to temporarily stop county departments from using the herbicide that contains a chemical believed to cause cancer while a study was conducted and viable alternatives were explored.
The board’s action then came on the heels of a story appearing in the Pasadena Weekly in March revealing Roundup was being sprayed by county workers at a heliport near Councilman Gene Masuda’s district in northeast Pasadena. County officials began meeting to evaluate the use of herbicides and pesticides after the newspaper spoke with several officials.
“I think the ban is a good idea,” Masuda told the Pasadena Weekly on Monday. “It’s the right thing to do, of course. It is poison. Roundup is dangerous stuff to have in our soil and in the water.”
Barger, a cancer survivor, said “I am hypersensitive to this issue” at the board’s meeting on Tuesday. “There are people who have had immune systems compromised, who are more susceptible.”
Barger met with local resident Darian Donner, whose complaint about the herbicide’s use near her home led to the moratorium, to discuss the county’s use of the popular weed killer.
Roundup, which has been in use since the 1970s, was developed by Monsanto, which was bought in 2018 by Bayer AG, headquartered in Germany, for $62.5 billion. The company has been successfully sued three times by non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients who blame their conditions on Roundup.
On July 18 a judge issued a tentative ruling reducing a $2 billion jury award to a couple after finding glyphosate most likely caused their cancer.
According to Bloomberg News, the ruling could “reduce the award by 90 percent or more, putting it in the range of $150 million to $250 million.”
Judge Winifred Smith of the Alameda County Circuit Court denied Bayer’s appeal to overrule the original $2 billion verdict, but said she was “inclined” to reduce the damages.
While attorneys for Bayer called the jury’s verdict “unhinged” back in May, the response to Thursday’s tentative ruling was well received. “The court’s tentative order proposes changes in the damage awards which would be a step in the right direction, but Bayer will wait for a final order on the post-trial motions before commenting in further detail,” company officials said in a statement issued after the ruling.
Earlier this month, another Northern California judge reduced an $80 million award against Bayer to $25 million. All three lawsuits originated in the Bay Area.
Since juries began awarding massive payouts, a slew of commercials have popped up on TV hawking the product, while law firms have also taken to the airwaves searching for possible victims. There are currently more than 11,000 pending cases against Bayer still waiting to be adjudicated. It was not immediately known if any of those cases stem from claims made in LA County.
The classification of glyphosate as a possible carcinogen has been criticized by the US Environmental Protection Agency, which does not consider the chemical a cancer-causing agent. The state EPA, however, does consider it a carcinogen. In April, a state appellate court found that the state can require labeling of products containing glyphosate herbicide as toxic under Proposition 65, also known as the state Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986.
Glyphosate was found in 21 oat-based snack products and cereals. Popular among children, all but four of these products were found with glyphosate levels considered unsafe for children, according to CBS News.
In February 2018 a federal judge temporarily ruled against the state’s attempts to require cancer warnings to be placed on food products that contain traces of glyphosate.
General Mills, the maker of the oat snacks in question, claims that food safety is the “top priority” for the company. Pesticides, they claim, are used in “the majority of foods we all eat” and that “experts at the FDA and EPA determine the safe levels for food products,” which their growers follow.
Bayer claims that the glyphosate levels “are far below the strict limits established by the EPA to protect human health.” According to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, Bayer has a history of “spreading misinformation about pesticide residues.”
The regulations regarding pesticide usage are well-established and the glyphosate level, Bayer has argued, is well below the recommended safety level.
Bayer claims that “glyphosate-based herbicides will continue to play a key role in helping agriculture meet pressing environmental and food security challenges as the global population grows by an expected two billion people through 2050.”
Locally, Pasadena city officials stopped using Roundup in 2018, according to City Manager Steve Mermell.
All told, there are local and state government glyphosate restrictions or bans in place in 13 states. Other California cities to take action on use of the herbicide include: Los Angeles, Burbank, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Thousand Oaks, Irvine and Richmond.