SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — A former school groundskeeper who blames his deadly cancer on the popular herbicide “Roundup” told his story Monday in a San Francisco courtroom.
Former Benicia Unified School District employee Lee Johnson held hands with his wife of 13 years as he walked into San Francisco Superior Court Monday to testify in the first case of its kind to go to trial.
“What makes it so frustrating is he’s going to pass away and this is sort of the last time they can spend together,” said Johnson’s attorney Brent Wisner.
Johnson says Monsanto’s weed killer – and its active ingredient glyphosate – has caused his terminal Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
During his four years as the groundskeeper at the school district, Johnson said he sprayed 150 gallons of Roundup 20-30 times a year.
On the stand Monday, he described what he called his careful use of the product.
“I figured if it could kill weeds it could kill me,” said Johnson. “I took it seriously. That’s why I wore anything I could to protect myself.”
He described two days where he ended up accidentally drenched in the herbicide. He called Monsanto’s consumer hotline, but said the company never called back.
“They could have called him back. It’s a phone call. They could have said there’s studies that show its related to cancer, but they didn’t call him back,” saud Wisner.
“We obviously have a huge amount of sympathy for Mr. Johnson and for his family, as we do with anybody who has cancer,” said Monsanto attorney Sandra Edwards. “But the 40 years of science and data and experience with this product shows that it doesn’t cause cancer.”
Jurors were shown some difficult pictures Monday. Johnson’s cancer has caused him to develop lesions over 80 percent of his body. He spoke in court about how the lesions tore into his self-confidence, embarrassed his children, and kept him from going out in public.
“One of the issues in this case is the jury has to decide how has cancer affected his life and I think this goes straight to the heart of it,” said Wisner.
Johnson said the case has forced him to come to terms with his mortality. The case has been expedited because of his poor health and it’s expected to wrap up on August 10, the day Johnson is scheduled to undergo a third round of chemotherapy.
If his case is successful, it could open the door for thousands of other cases against Monsanto.