" “Dame Rumor says [... that] dandelions are an awful nuisance on a handsome lawn.” — From the June 19, 1897, edition of The Courier-Gazette "
It’s that time of year. Flyers arrive advertising 2-for-1 Roundup deals, and stores strategically position the herbicide front and center. People will soon be trying to eradicate any trace of dandelions from driveway or lawn.

And yet, on March 27 of this year, a federal jury awarded more than $80 million to Edwin Hardeman, who claimed that Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This is the second such case; in the first, in 2018, a jury awarded Dewayne Johnson $289 million, which a judge reduced to $78 million on appeal. In 2017, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an agency of the World Health Organization of the United Nations, published a monograph that determined that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, “is probably carcinogenic to humans.”

It further concluded that “[t]here is strong evidence that exposure to glyphosate or glyphosate-based formulations is genotoxic based on studies in humans in vitro and studies in experimental animals.” That is, it damages our DNA.

Roundup is made by Monsanto, now owned by pharmaceutical giant Bayer. Even among giant for-profit corporations, Monsanto is exceptional in its disregard for transparency, health, or basic decency. A set of investigative articles called “The Monsanto Papers” by Stéphane Horel and Stéphane Foucart for French newspaper Le Monde won the European Press Prize for Investigative Reporting in 2018. (“The Monsanto Papers” also refers to a trove of internal company documents made public in 2017.) The articles paint a damning portrait of a company that operates by intimidation and lies, and the authors write: “In order to save glyphosate, the Monsanto corporation has undertaken an effort to destroy the United Nations’ cancer agency by any means possible.”

To be clear, research on glyphosate has led to mixed conclusions. The U.S. Department of Environmental Protection, for example, issued a draft report in 2017 finding that “glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” How did the EPA and the IARC reach such different conclusions? One explanation, according to a 2019 study published in Environmental Sciences Europe, is that the EPA relied on non-peer-reviewed studies commissioned by companies with a conflict of interest in the outcome. That is, the IARC relied on better data.

And it’s not just humans who are at risk. Bees are vital to the health of the world’s plants and ecosystems due to their role as pollinators, and Roundup also poisons them. A 2018 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that “[e]xposing bees to glyphosate alters the bee gut community and increases susceptibility to infection by opportunistic pathogens.”

Since November 2014, Chapter 13, Article IV of Rockland’s city code has prohibited the use of non-organic pesticides and herbicides on City-owned land. Given the danger of Roundup and the terrible behavior of Monsanto, why not extend this prohibition to cover the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides to all of Rockland? Portland has already adopted an ordinance banning synthetic pesticides and herbicides on private property, and many other cities and countries around the world have adopted or will adopt similar pollinator-, waterway- and human-friendly policies.

But this isn’t just about Monsanto and Roundup. This is about the fact that we have inherited and continued to build a civilization that floods our world — our only world — with toxic chemicals and pollutants, and that we somehow have come to regard this as normal, or acceptable, or the inevitable price of “progress.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that 50 million (FIFTY MILLION!) people in the U.S. get their drinking water from sources potentially contaminated by pesticides or other agricultural chemicals. Anybody who is paying any attention knows that we’re trashing our planet. That’s old news, and we’ve known it for decades (some far-seeing thinkers and feelers have known it for centuries). What dismays us is that so many who recognize the dangers of our collective negligence still live and act as if there were little or no danger.

Doesn’t it seem odd that it is a matter of pride to some to see their vast expanse, or small patch, of lawn be stifled into conformity? That at the first signs of spring, with its vibrant greens and new yellows, there is a cultural compulsion to kill the new and diverse, to decide what’s a “weed” and what is wanted? This is an inherited value that requires investigation to find its root causes and far-reaching consequences. In fact, we find dandelion roots and leaves delicious, and as nutritious — or as toxic — as the soil they are growing in.