By Nora C. Godkin, IRAdvocates Litigation Fellow
The recent classification of the herbicide glyphosate as a probable carcinogen highlights the potential for serious, long-term consequences of unlawful corporate activity around the world, and emphasizes the importance of the ongoing Arias v. DynCorp & Quinteros v. DynCorp litigation.
New Evidence Linking Glyphosate to Cancer
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization’s (WHO) specialized cancer agency, recently classified the herbicide glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” after a Working Group of 17 experts from 11 countries completed an evaluation of the chemical. The evaluation revealed “limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans” for glyphosate, and “convincing evidence that glyphosate also can cause cancer in laboratory animals.” Moreover, “[g]lyphosate also caused DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells.”
U.S. groups have already begun calling on the EPA and FDA to restrict the use of the chemical in the U.S. in light of the study’s findings.
As the Washington Post reported in a recent article on the IARC report, “[t]he glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup is a mainstay of industrial agriculture worldwide, and it’s a preferred weapon for killing Colombian cocaine harvests.” The chemical is used in the aerial spraying operations of the U.S.-backed Plan Colombia program, aimed at eradicating illegal coca and poppy production in Colombia. The fumigation program has been controversial, with the herbicide causing damage to legal crops and health problems in people exposed to the spray. Use of the chemical has even been likened “to the U.S. military’s use of the Agent Orange herbicide during the Vietnam War.” [link]
The news that glyphosate probably causes cancer only increases concerns over the safety and propriety of the program.
Arias v. DynCorp & Quinteros v. DynCorp
The Plan Colombia fumigation program is the subject of litigation currently pending in federal court in Washington, D.C. Over 2,000 Ecuadorian Plaintiffs have sued the American company DynCorp, which carries out Plan Colombia spraying operations pursuant to a contract with the U.S. government, for damages caused by exposure to the herbicide glyphosate when DynCorp’s spraying activities crossed over the Ecuadorian border in contravention of its government contract.
Plaintiffs – who have no connection to the drug trade – allege that the spraying destroyed their crops and killed their animals and livestock; what’s more, Plaintiffs report that new crops often will not grow on lands exposed to the spray, and that exposed animals often have miscarriages or sickly offspring. . Many residents of the sprayed zones were working in their fields, often accompanied by their children, when the spraying occurred. The chemicals fell directly on their skin and clothing, often resulting in rashes, vomiting, diarrhea and other acute symptoms within hours of the spraying. Plaintiffs further allege that their exposure to the herbicide has resulted in myriad longer-term health problems in themselves and their families, such as skin conditions, kidney and respiratory problems, as well as mental health conditions.
In light of the IARC classification of glyphosate as probably carcinogenic, Plaintiffs may be facing additional health concerns in the future, especially considering that their exposure was far greater and more direct than that of the ordinary homeowner. This development further highlights the need for corporate accountability and justice for the victims of DynCorp’s actions in this case.
The DynCorp litigation is currently before the United States District Court for the District of Colombia. While some of Plaintiffs’ original state law and Alien Tort Statute (ATS) claims against DynCorp have since been dismissed, four common law claims remain: battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), private nuisance, and public nuisance.
For more information on our DynCorp case, click here.