Three lawsuits filed against Monsanto Co.

A Honolulu law firm has filed a trio of product liability civil lawsuits this month on behalf of three Big Island men against the chemical giant Monsanto Co. in Hilo Circuit Court.

The civil suits were filed by attorney Ilana K. Waxman of Galiher, DeRobertis and Waxman on behalf of Rodney I. Sunaoka and Honey Sunaoka, Dudley Caravalho and Susan Caravalho, and Alan Z. Inaba.

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The men, who range in age from 60 to 77, claim exposure to glyphosate — a herbicide marketed by Monsanto as Roundup — and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, manufactured and marketed by Monsanto in the U.S. until banned in 1979, caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Other defendants in the lawsuit include Solutia Inc., Pharmacia Corp. and Pfizer Inc. — entities that acquired portions of Monsanto’s former corporate structure, plus Phoenix V LLC, doing business as BEI Hawaii and, in Caravalho’s case only, Farm and Garden Inc., local corporations that sell or sold Roundup.

Waxman said she can’t specifically “comment on an exact dollar amount” her clients are seeking.

“I really can’t comment on an exact dollar amount, but enough so that our clients feel they’ve been fairly compensated for what they’ve had to go through, which is a very difficult experience. And with NHL, even if it’s in remission, there is always a risk of it recurring.”

Waxman said the plaintiffs used the herbicide in a noncommercial setting for “primarily personal use.”

“We have a number of clients on the Big Island, on Oahu and on Maui. Some people are in remission; some people are still undergoing treatment. The prognosis generally is good, although you never know. And we do have some cases on Oahu of people who actually died of NHL”

At least three juries nationwide have come back with verdicts that Monsanto has acted wrongfully. Monsanto and its corporate parent, Bayer, announced in July they intend to settle Roundup cases for $10 billion. The herbicide remains on store shelves, however, and Monsanto has denied any wrongdoing.

“Rather than pull it off the market, they have continued to try to deny that it’s even been recognized as a carcinogen by (the International Agency for Research on Canter) and other governmental and nongovernmental agencies from around the world,” Waxman said. “And it has been banned in a lot of places, but not in the United States.”

Waxman described the Big Island cases as unique because they also claim exposure to PCBs, man-made chemical compounds that were used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical components because they don’t easily burn and are good insulators.

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“Monsanto, before it manufactured Roundup … was the leading manufacturer of PCBs in the United States. And PCBs are also a carcinogen that can cause cancers, including NHL. And because they’re basically indestructible — even though they stopped manufacturing them in the 1970s — most PCBs that have ever been manufactured are still out in our ecosystem, and they tend to be stored in animal fatty tissues, so they’re still in the food supply, essentially — milk and meat and even other foods. So most of us have some levels of PCBs in our bodies.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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