Last Wednesday the Board of Trustees of the Oxnard School District voted unanimously to ban all products containing glyphosate, the controversial active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, from purchase or use on school grounds.
“A concerned parent reached out to us at the end of the last school year when she came across a posting from the school that they had applied glyphosate [on school grounds],” said Adam Vega, a community organizer for the Ventura County Coalition Advocating for Pesticide Safety (VC-CAPS). “We’ve been working with the Oxnard School District since then to get them off glyphosate.”
John Cooper, the senior manager of maintenance and operations for the Oxnard School District, said in the public meeting that his department on its own had started to reduce the use of Roundup last year and already has stopped using the chemical on school grounds. He thanked Vega and his group for their initiative.
Last August, a Bay Area jury awarded a school groundskeeper, DeWayne Anthony “Lee” Johnson, who often worked with Roundup, $289 million after evidence was presented in court that he developed a terminal cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, when he was drenched on the job with Roundup in an accident at work. That award was reduced in November to $78 million, but this March, in a federal trial, a homeowner who used Roundup, Edwin Hardeman, was awarded $80 million, after he, too, sued Monsanto, arguing that his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer was caused by the spraying of Roundup on his property in San Francisco.
The legal losses, although under appeal, nonetheless set off a cavalcade of consequences for Roundup, its maker, Monsanto, and the German company Bayer AG, which bought out Monsanto in a multibillion transaction in June 2018. Bayer acquired Monsanto despite knowing the company was facing over 11,000 lawsuits in the U.S. for damages linked to the use of glyphosate. Bayer stock has fallen more than 30 percent since the acquisition of Monsanto last year, and is under sharp criticism for the move from business and stock analysts.
According to Linda Parks, who represents the Thousand Oaks area on the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, more than 50 U.S. cities and counties in recent years have banned the use of Roundup for maintenance on local government properties, including the counties of Alameda, Marin and Los Angeles.
On April 23, in a meeting celebrating Earth Day, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously for a resolution by Parks asking county land agencies to document their use of glyphosate, explore potential alternatives, identify best practices and report back to the board in 90 days in July.
Parks said that she was supported by residents and officials in her district including Tony Knight, superintendent of the Oak Park Unified School District. In a letter to the board, Knight said that although his district banned the use of glyphosate on school property 15 years ago, his school district nonetheless now supports a larger county-wide ban on all public properties.
“We have significant concerns for the safety and well-being of our children because [glyphosate] is still being used by County maintenance personnel in the watershed areas in Oak Park where our children recreate, and it is also being used in the medians and landscaped areas in Oak Park,” wrote Knight.
“This [resolution] is specific to our county facilities,” said Parks, in discussion at the meeting. “We have already reduced the use of this herbicide, and suspended its use in some public areas, but there is more we can do.”
Roundup is one of the most widely used of all weed killers at both residences and on farms nationwide, despite being a chemical declared “probably carcinogenic to humans” by an international working group of medical experts affiliated with the World Health Organization in 2015.
The working group, called the International Agency for Research on Cancer, found “strong evidence” based on a study of over 1,000 papers that glyphosate causes cancer. The research included studies that looked at what happened to workers exposed to the chemical on the job and experimental studies on animals exposed to the chemical in the lab.
The manufacturers of the herbicide continue to defend glyphosate, arguing that hundreds of scientific studies conducted since the introduction of Roundup in the 1970s have found glyphosate safe if used properly, including organizations such as the US Environmental Protection Agency, Health Canada and the European Food Safety Organization.