B.C. man sues Monsanto, Bayer, alleging Roundup herbicide caused his cancer

For almost a year, Cliff Sissons has been taking about 20 pills a day for pain, fatigue and headaches.

It's hard to keep track of all their names. One, he recalled, starts with a G.

Sissons, a 57-year-old man from Cranbrook, B.C., is trying to stay positive after a battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. 

He blames the blood cancer and his other, ongoing ailments on his use of the glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup over a span of 31 years.

"It's pretty shocking," Sissons said while choking back tears as he described the moment he heard the diagnosis.

"[My family] didn't say a lot. They were kinda surprised. But things happen. You gotta deal with it."

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

In a lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court Wednesday, Sissons alleges Roundup maker Bayer — the pharmaceutical company that owns Roundup maker, Monsanto — are liable for his illnesses. Monsanto Canada and Bayer Cropscience are also named as defendants as are retailers Canadian Tire and Home Hardware.

Sissons' Vancouver-based lawyer, J. Scott Stanley, says this is the first non-class action lawsuit filed over alleged Roundup-related illnesses in this province. 

The claim alleges the retailers violated B.C.'s Sale of Goods Act by selling Roundup, alleging it is an unsafe product.

Sissons is seeking unspecified damages for physical and mental suffering, lost past and possible future wages, and the possible future costs of his care.

None of the allegations have been proven in court and Bayer, in an emailed statement, said Roundup is not dangerous.

Margaret Sissons

"While we have great sympathy for plaintiffs, glyphosate-based herbicides are not the cause of illness and we will vigorously defend our products," a spokesperson wrote.

"We firmly stand behind the safety of glyphosate-based products and as a company devoted to life sciences, assure Canadians that their health and the environment are our top priority."

Landscaping work

According to the claim, Sissons used Roundup between 1987 and 2018 in his work as a subcontractor, working on homes in the Cranbrook area.

He was a bakery owner for 21 years but also built or finished three homes to make extra money. He spent about 15 years living in the three homes before selling them.

Landscaping was part of the work at those homes and his approach to landscaping involved mixing and spraying Roundup to kill weeds several times each year.

"I used it all the time because it actually worked really well," he said, chuckling. "Obviously too well. It worked on me, too."

For several months in 2018, Sissons said he experienced strange pains, including headaches. He eventually developed double vision.

He went to his doctor and cancer in his eye was discovered in June 2018. 

He says after 10 rounds of radiation treatment his doctors believe the cancer was eliminated.

$86 US million payout

Allegations of health problems caused by Roundup have led to numerous lawsuits in the U.S.

Bayer was ordered to pay $2 billion in May to a California couple that alleged their cancers were caused by the product. The jury ruled the company was liable for past failures to warn about possible health risks that may be caused by Roundup. 

A judge later reduced the payout to $86 million.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization, classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015.

Bayer rejects that finding and maintains that glyphosate is safe, pointing to 2019 Health Canada findings.

Three proposed class-action suits against Roundup manufacturers have been filed in B.C. this year. Elsewhere in Canada suits have been filed in Quebec, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Stanley, Sissons' lawyer, said the lawsuit will take a different approach: by representing a single client. The litigation will proceed faster and the discovery process will produce more information.

"This is the one and only thing that would have caused his lymphoma," Stanley said. "Based upon the research we've done and the fact that he was using the most concentrated form of this product, it's certainly enough to cause [lymphoma]."

Sissons says he's not only suing for himself but to make the public aware of the alleged health risks from glyphosate.