How Do I Tell My Neighbor To Stop Using Roundup?

Let’s Talk About This Dangerous Weedkiller & How To Talk To Your Neighbors

In the poem “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost repeats the line, “good fences make good neighbors.” Of course, when it comes to herbicide or pesticide use, a fence is usually not enough to protect your yard from what your neighbor decides to spray.

Still, I don’t think anyone likes being told what to do, so I’m not recommending confronting your neighbor on their gardening habits.

But I will say that awareness begins with you. Get the facts and don’t be afraid to share them. Maybe host a neighborhood party to discuss options or send them this article if you feel comfortable. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk to one another, but we do need to be respectful of others, even when we don’t agree with their actions.

Just imagine if we all felt confident and curious enough to talk with our neighbors about the topics we cared most about! It could really start a revolution.

So let’s talk about glyphosate and Roundup, as I get many versions of this question.

First, have you read Sharon Lerner’s meticulously reported article at The Intercept from last week?

The Department Of Yes: How Pesticide Companies Corrupted the EPA and Poisoned America

The piece raises many important points that I’ve shared throughout the years.

The EPA doesn’t always scrutinize studies or revisit the science that has been accepted for 10 or 20 years, and the federal agency is “often unable to stand up to the intense pressures from powerful agrochemical companies, which spend tens of millions of dollars on lobbying each year and employ many former EPA scientists once they leave the agency,” she writes.

She also writes about the, “many instances in which an industry that is far more powerful and better resourced than the federal agency responsible for regulating it has hoodwinked, bullied, and persuaded the EPA into using inaccurate science at the expense of public health. And that influence over the research used to set the safe levels of pesticide exposure is just one of many tools that agrochemical companies like Dow have successfully wielded to increase and maintain the use of products even when they damage health and the environment.”

I could not have said it better myself! The EPA is full of well-intentioned and intelligent scientists, but big industry knows how to skirt, manipulate, and discredit the rules to continue to churn out massive profits. It’s a losing game for the consumers who have to deal with the consequences.

Glyphosate 101

I’ll refer more to her article in a moment, but let’s talk specifics about glyphosate, a chemical compound turned weedkiller that is the main ingredient found in Roundup, the most popular herbicide in the world. For generations, people have used Roundup and other glyphosate-based chemicals to kill the dandelions flourishing in their lawns.

Glyphosate first hit the market in 1974, when the EPA was still in its infancy—just four years old. The regulatory agency had a large backlog of chemicals to review and approve at that time, and didn’t finalize its guidelines for the weedkiller until 1986.

A 2017 article from In These Times does a tremendous job of showing how Monsanto (the original creator of Roundup) manipulated testing data submitted to the EPA and how staff repeatedly raised red flags about it.

Bayer added Roundup to its product lineup when it bought Monsanto for $63 billion in 2018. The company maintains that the product is safe, even after years and years of litigation and settlements.

Worldwide, more than 9 million tons of the chemical have been sprayed to remove unwanted plants in backyards and commercial fields. But this ease of extraction comes with a price.

In 2001, research connected glyphosate with the development of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the publication Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Additional research in subsequent years established the same connection in Occupational & Environmental Medicine (OEM), the International Journal of Cancer (IJC), and other studies.

A 2015 report from the World Health Organization stated that the chemical is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” based on findings from the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

But somehow the effects of glyphosate remain “disputed.”

In January 2020, the EPA concluded in its interim decision for registration review (what keeps it on the market) that glyphosate is not likely to be a human carcinogen.

I find this curious after so many legal actions in the years leading up to this conclusion.

Let’s review:

In 2018, Monsanto lost a landmark Roundup cancer trial, where jurors unanimously found that that the company acted with “malice” and that its weedkillers contributed “substantially” to Dewayne "Lee" Johnson’s terminal illness. The former California groundskeeper was diagnosed in 2014 with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, while working at a school in Benicia, California and the company was ordered to pay more than $289 million (reduced on appeal to $78 million).

In March 2019, a jury awarded $80 million to a plaintiff who had used Roundup on his 56-acre property for more than 25 years before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2015.

In May 2019, a jury ordered Bayer to pay $2 billion (reduced to $86.7 million) in punitive damages in a lawsuit filed by a couple who both developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after using Roundup for more than 30 years. The couple was also awarded another $55 million in compensatory damages.

You can read a more exhaustive history of the weedkiller and its legal troubles here.  

A History of Lies

Going back to Sharon Lerner’s article, she interviewed Charles Benbrook, a veteran agricultural economist who spent years poring over internal documents on pesticides as an expert witness in the litigation with Monsanto and Bayer over Roundup.

He “described tireless corporate campaigns to portray pesticides as harmless even as independent research showed otherwise,” she wrote.

He also told her, “The companies constantly regurgitate their own spin on the science…. The regulatory affairs departments of these companies actually compete against each other and sometimes brag that they were able to keep one of their high-risk pesticides on the market longer than some other company that threw in the towel prematurely.”

Her article also addresses the issue of high-ranking EPA officials going from regulating pesticides to working for the companies that make them.

This worn tradition is exactly why I called out President Joe Biden for appointing a former EPA employee-turned DuPont communication strategist to join his EPA transition board.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

In conclusion, yes, Roundup and other glyphosate-containing chemicals are harmful. Regulations are needed and it’s certainly complicated. Should you tell your neighbor to stop using it? Maybe.

If you do, you can start the conversation about what weeds are in general. They really are just plants, and dandelions have tons of benefits.

Alternatives to Roundup can be made in your kitchen with a mix of clove oil, citrus oil, lemon juice, or vinegar. If you want to look cool, try a flamethrower, or a flame weeder, which looks like a giant crème brulee torch that can acts as great for spot treatment of weeds in gravel driveways or sidewalks. Check out more alternatives here.

We can’t possibly cover all parts of this chemical in one article, so please add your thoughts to the discussion in the comment section below. Maybe we will add a Part 2.

Big thanks to our intern Ryan Sinderbrand, who contributed research for this story.