(BIVN) – Claiming the herbicide Round Up caused his cancer, the man who took the manufacturer to court and won, Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, was in Hilo on Friday to talk to Hawaiʻi County officials about the dangers of glyphosate.
Johnson sat down with County administration officials and members of local advocacy groups to talk about his days spraying Round Up as a groundskeeper in California. After he developed cancer from exposure to the product, he sued the powerful company that makes it, Monsanto/Bayer, and was awarded $300 million in damages.
Glyphosate is commonly used on Hawaiʻi Island for weed control.
“We’re at a crossroads in our state now where we have to face some tough decisions,” said State Rep. Richard Creagan, who was at the small meeting held at the Hawaiʻi County building. “As you know, agricultural companies hide stuff, and now things are coming out. With cases, like Lee’s, and the other ones that were decided against Bayer, they’ve lost 40% of their value and we have to take this issue much more seriously than just a few months ago.”
The meeting was organized by Hawaiʻi County Councilmember Rebecca Villegas, and was one of a handful of visits Johnson is making around the state.
The organizers shared this media release after the event:
Hawaii County directors of three agencies — Parks and Recreation, Public Works, and Finance — met Friday with a man who made history as the first plaintiff to win a lawsuit brought against Monsanto/Bayer. Dewayne “Lee” Johnson was a groundskeeper in a California school district where he was required to regularly spray Roundup. Despite following all the instructions for safe-handling, he developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma and sued the company for allegedly failing to adequately warn the public of the threat of developing cancer from exposure to the product. The court awarded him nearly $300 million in damages. Johnson is determined to share his experience with policy-makers in an effort to persuade more communities to better regulate the use of toxic pesticides and protect public health and the environment.
The personal talk-story session with Johnson was organized by Councilmember Rebecca Villegas, along with local advocacy group, Greener Hawaii, and the statewide Protect Our Keiki coalition which invited Johnson here. It was part of a tour that Johnson is making throughout the islands to educate everyone on the importance of reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides amid mounting evidence about the risks those chemicals pose to public health and our fragile island environment.
“It’s important for people to know this stuff, to know about what they’re being exposed to. If people have the information they can make choices, they can be informed and protect themselves,” said Johnson. “I’m just a regular guy from a small town called Vallejo, who happened to seek the truth about my failing health and found answers.”
“I think people are starting to see that there is something going on with this product. I’m living proof of that,” said Johnson.
According to information compiled by the Protect Our Keiki coalition, there are more than 40 counties, cities and school districts, including Miami, Irvine and Los Angeles that have already implemented restrictions or bans on Roundup and/or all synthetic pesticides. Members of the coalition are working to persuade counties across Hawaiʻi, and the state Department of Education to join them.
Councilmember Villegas said that she plans to introduce a bill doing just that. “My hope for today is to provide the information, the inspiration, and the opportunity for collaboration amongst County of Hawaii departments to support a transition away from the use of pesticides and herbicides,” said Villegas.
There are smart, safe, affordable alternatives to toxic pesticides
Dr. Michelle Suber is with Greener Hawaii, a community group that has worked successfully with the County of Hawaii to transition from herbicides to alternative methods in three different parks. Dr Suber said, “There are intelligent and affordable ways to care for our parks and roadways without the use of harmful chemicals. It is our responsibility to the environment and to future generations to do so.”
Another member of Greener Hawaii, Blake Watson, has been working on potential policy changes the County could make in regards to vegetation management on road sides and parks. “If we take a common-sense approach to managing the lands along the roads as well as the parks, we can see that the alternatives are really preferable to the top down method of a chemical blanket approach,” advised Watson. “Plus, medically and legally speaking, the writing is on the wall. Protecting our workers from this dangerous chemical should be paramount.”
The Protect Our Keiki coalition includes the Hawaiʻi Alliance for Progressive Action, Beyond Pesticides, the Hawaiʻi Center for Food Safety, Hawaiʻi SEED, Greener Hawaii, Pesticide Action Network and the Frost Family Foundation.