On October 2017, the Royal Australian Navy issued a Technical Directive to replace traditional cleaning chemicals used on board the LHDs HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide with Envirofluid’s range of environmentally-friendly products. The directive was issued in response to increased pH levels and associated foaming in the treated effluent from their equipment which were suspected to be caused by chemical input from upstream cleaners that enter the waste streams.

The LHDs, built by Navantia in collaboration with BAE Systems, are equipped with high-tech Detegasa membrane bioreactor sewage treatment plants or STP. This type of STP processes sewage load through growth of organic microorganisms that feed on the organic matter. The effluent is then filtered through a series of membranes which results in high-quality, treated effluent that is safe to be discharged in waterways.

The Royal Australian Navy concluded that the different cleaning and maintenance chemical products from various manufacturers, which were previously used on board the LHDs, were ultimately entering the black and grey water systems, adversely affecting them.

By issuing the cleaning chemical substitution directive, the Royal Australian Navy effectively eliminated hazardous chemicals that, until that time, entered the waste water streams and negatively affected the efficiency of the membrane bioreactor STP. In addition, the use of limited compatible products from a single manufacturer prevents any downstream problems. Using non-toxic, eco-friendly cleaning agents also ensures the health and well-being of the LHDs personnel and the environment. These benefits are further supplemented by reduced inventory and the removal of other unnecessary hazardous substances, as well as reduced sustainment costs by sourcing codified products.

The Royal Australian Navy employed a Systems Engineering approach to the evaluation of chemicals, ascertaining compatibility with bacteria growth and the biological process, ensuring a neutral impact on pH levels, and reducing foaming within the STP. Envirofluid was selected for their available product range, which were evaluated and determined to be less hazardous to personnel, the environment, and the system than the previously used chemicals.

Envirofluid is the Australian leader in providing effective, safer substitutes for a wide range of industrial, cleaning, and maintenance chemical products. The company has 15 years’ worth of experience seeking out the best science has to offer in order to find responsible, high performance replacements for some of the most commonly used toxic and dangerous chemicals that place people at risk of instant injury or long-term harm.

Now that the TM181 has been fully implemented HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Canberra have eliminated their on-board issues, reduced chemical inventory items by over 80% and improved safety compliance and environmental outcomes.

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On August 12, 2018, San Francisco jurors ruled in favour of Dewayne Lee Johnson against agricultural giant Monsanto, awarding him $250 million in punitive damages and $39 million in compensatory damages.

Many legal experts believe that Johnson’s triumph could set a precedent for thousands other cases like his.

Months to Live

Johnson, a 46-year old father of two, sued Monsanto over their product Roundup, which he claims gave him cancer. According to Johnson, he applied the popular weedkiller – sometimes 100 gallons a day – between 20 to 30 times a year for two and a half years as part of his job as a groundskeeper for the Benicia School District. He had two accidents in which he was soaked by the chemical, the first of which happened in 2012. Two years later, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Today as much as 80% of his body is covered with lesions.

Doctors don’t expect Johnson to live for very long; in fact, they didn’t think he’d live to have his day in court. In California, expedited trials are granted to dying plaintiffs, which is why his was the first case to go to trial among the initial 2,000++ other lawsuits claiming that Roundup causes non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma.

Johnson and his lawyers assert that Monsanto knew about the dangers of glyphosate – the active ingredient in Roundup – particularly when combined with other ingredients and suppressed evidence of those dangers.

“I never would’ve sprayed that product on school grounds or around people if I knew it would cause them harm,” said Johnson when he testified in court.

What is Glyophosate?

Glyphosate is an herbicide used to kill weeds, specifically annual broadleaf weeds and grasses that compete with crops. It works by inhibiting the plant enzyme 5- enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSP) that is essential to plant growth.

Monsanto maintains that since this enzyme is not found in humans or animals, there is “low risk to human and animal health” when using glyphosate-based products according to label directions.”

Conflicting Studies

The controversy surrounding this case is compounded by the contradictory results from studies conducted on glyphosate.

Recently acquired by Bayer, Monsanto has long held the position that glyphosate-based herbicides, which includes Roundup, do not pose serious risks to human health when used according to usage guidelines. They have cited the more than 800 studies that have been published, including one from the Environmental Protection Agency, which have stated that glyphosate is safe for use and does not cause cancer.

However, in an independent study published in March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”, stating there was “limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma”. The report also goes on to state that “there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.” The WHO’s study was prompted by other independent peer-reviewed studies that have documented the dangers of glyphosate.

The IARC report has spurred hundreds of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients to sue Monsanto, claiming their illness is due to exposure to Roundup.

The National Pesticide Information Center recognises that there is a conflict of reports associating the use of glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma saying that, “when high doses were administered to laboratory animals, some studies suggest that glyphosate has carcinogenic potential. Studies on cancer rates in people have provided conflicting results on whether the use of glyphosate-containing products is associated with cancer. Some studies have associated glyphosate use with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”

A “Synergistic Effect”

Monsanto staunchly stands by its statement that glyphosate is safe and does not cause cancer. But according to Timothy Litzenburg, one of Johnson’s attorneys, Roundup is the big problem, not just glyphosate. He stated that the interaction of the chemicals found in the product together with glyphosate creates a “synergistic effect”, making it more carcinogenic.

Charla Lord, a Monsanto spokeswoman, on the other hand, said that regulatory bodies are in place to ensure that their product is safe for consumers.

Burden of Proof

Can Roundup cause cancer? If so, did Monsanto “fail to exercise reasonable care to warn of the dangerous risks associated with use and exposure”? These were the two questions that Johnson’s legal team sought to prove during the trial. In the end, the jury’s verdict was a resounding ‘Yes’.

At first glance, the case seemed like a steep uphill climb for the plaintiff. The odds were stacked against them: a man dying of cancer facing a massive, well-known agrochemical corporation with hundreds of scientific literature affirming the safety of glyphosate use to back them up. However, Johnson’s lawyers did not need to prove that Roundup was the only cause of his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but that it contributed substantially to his illness.

Additionally, whilst it was nearly impossible for Johnson’s attorneys to prove that glyphosate – and Roundup – caused his cancer, it was also nearly impossible for Monsanto’s attorneys to prove that it did not.

More Cases to Come

Johnson’s win creates a momentum for the thousands of other cases against Monsanto waiting to be tried. As of this writing, the number of people stricken with cancer allegedly caused by Roundup to have filed lawsuits against the company has grown to 8,000.

According to Litzenburg, more than half of their clients are composed of those who sprayed Roundup for school districts and parks and others are individuals who sprayed the product around their homes.

A Bittersweet Victory

Whilst the money will never make up for not seeing his children grow, Johnson can at least have peace of mind that his family will be taken care of even after he’s gone. His wife, Araceli Johnson, a nurse practitioner, has had to take on two jobs to support them.

The jury’s decision to award Johnson with $250 million in punitive damages delivers the message for which he fought the case: Monsanto should be held accountable for knowingly burying evidence of the dangers posed by glyphosate. Corporations, big or small, should properly label their products so as to give consumers the opportunity to make informed decisions about whether or not to use them, and how to properly use them to minimise risks.

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