Bayer’s Monsanto unit, the company behind Roundup weed killer, has pleaded guilty to unlawfully spraying, transporting and storing a banned pesticide on the Hawaiian island of Maui and was fined $10.2 million for violating federal law. According to a recent press release issued by the Department of Justice, the pesticide, methyl parathion, “had to be managed as an acute hazardous waste in compliance with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA),” which prohibited the transportation and storage of the pesticide without a proper permit after 2013. This settlement agreement with the Department of Justice comes as Monsanto, the original maker of Roundup weed killer, and Bayer face a mountain of lawsuits involving exposure to Roundup. All of the Roundup lawsuits involve similar allegations that Monsanto failed to adequately warn consumers about the potential cancer risks associated with exposure to Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers.
In the press release, issued on November 21, the Department of Justice reported that Monsanto admitted to using methyl parathion, the active ingredient in Penncap-M, on corn seed and research crops at its Valley Farm facility in Kihei, Hawaii in 2014, despite knowing that the pesticide had been banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2013. In addition to pleading guilty to a misdemeanor offense for unlawfully spraying the banned pesticide, Monsanto entered a deferred prosecution agreement related to two felony counts of illegally storing “acute hazardous waste.” According to the press release, Monsanto unlawfully stored Penncap-M at several locations on Maui and Molokai, and, after failing to obtain a permit to accept hazardous waste at the Valley Farm site, illegally transported the pesticide without using a proper shipping manifest identifying the pesticide as a hazardous material. Monsanto also admitted to having workers enter the fields just seven days after they were sprayed with methyl parathion, even though the company knew that they should have waited at least 31 days before entering the fields.
The case against Monsanto is the result of an investigation by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, which focuses on criminal conduct that threatens the environment and the health and safety of the public. “Federal laws and regulations impose a clear duty on every user of regulated and dangerous chemicals to ensure the products are safely stored, transported and used,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna, who announced the settlement agreement with Monsanto. Sadly, Monsanto chose to take part in illegal conduct that “posed a threat to the environment, surrounding communities and Monsanto workers.” Pursuant to the agreement with the Department of Justice, Monsanto will pay $6 million in criminal fines and $4 million in community service payments to the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, the Hawaii Department of Health, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and certain other Hawaiian government agencies.
This settlement agreement with the Department of Justice is just the latest in a string of losses for Monsanto. The company, which was acquired by Bayer AG for $63 billion in 2018, has been mired in litigation involving its widely used glyphosate-based weed killer Roundup, which has been linked to cancer in those exposed to the toxin. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans” and linked Roundup exposure to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that develops in the lymphatic system. Since then, more than 43,000 lawsuits have been brought against Monsanto and Bayer in state and federal courts across the country, on behalf of individuals who were exposed to Roundup during commercial or residential use and subsequently developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. So far, Monsanto has lost three major jury verdicts in U.S. cases where it was determined that Roundup caused or contributed to the plaintiffs’ cancer and that Monsanto deliberately hid the risks of Roundup exposure from consumers.