Currently, paraquat is banned in 32 countries including China.
Since 1961, paraquat, a highly toxic herbicide, has been used in more than 100 crops in the United States to remove weeds and grasses resistant to glyphosate, another dangerous product sold under the Roundup brand. Paraquat is one of the most popular herbicides in the world. In the USA, however, only approved applicators can use Paraquat, as the risk of poisoning is very high. It can be found under numerous brand names such as Bonfire, Devour, Helmquat, Quik-Quat, Blanco, and Parazone. One of the most famous manufacturers of paraquat in the country is Syngenta. Still, there are numerous other companies that make it, such as Chevron Chemical Company, United Phosphorous, Innvictis Crop Care LLC, and the Adama Group.
Individuals who wish to use paraquat, primarily farm workers and farmers, must complete mandatory training from the Environmental Protection Agency before they can mix, load, and apply the herbicide. This requirement came into effect in 2017. Before this year, people could use paraquat under the supervision of a licensed applicator, which is no longer the case these days. The aim of the training is to educate future users of paraquat about the toxicity of the herbicide, the new labeling requirements and restrictions, and the consequences of abuse. While the majority of paraquat manufacturers warn of the risk of paraquat poisoning on the label of their product, none of them mention the risk of developing Parkinson’s from prolonged exposure to this herbicide.
The link between paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s disease
People who are regularly exposed to paraquat are 250% more likely to develop Parkinson’s. In other words, people who are exposed to paraquat are 2.5 times more likely to develop this brain disorder than people who are not. The rate of diagnosis for this brain disorder increased 107% from 2013 to 2017, possibly due to the increasing use of paraquat in the United States. From 2011 to 2017, the annual consumption of paraquat more than doubled, rising from over 3 million kilograms to almost 7 million kilograms. The state where the largest amount of paraquat is used is California at 10,262,736 kilograms per year.
Person spraying herbicide on a field; Image courtesy of Wuzefe via Pixabay, www.pixabay.com
Exposure to paraquat occurs primarily through inhalation, skin contact and ingestion. Although most herbicide applicators wear appropriate protective equipment when working with this herbicide, they will still come into contact with it after applying paraquat to crops. Paraquat destroys unwanted plants by causing oxidative stress. This breaks down atoms that are free of living cell molecules with which they come into contact. When someone inhales paraquat mist, or when the herbicide is absorbed through the skin, it enters the lungs, olfactory bulb, or stomach and eventually reaches the substantia nigra pars compacta, a part of the brain responsible for producing dopamine.
Dopamine is a critical neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in rewarding and regulating movement in the brain. People with Parkinson’s disease usually have this part of the brain damaged, which greatly affects their dopamine levels. In the absence of dopamine, symptoms of Parkinson’s disease appear, including tremors in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and head, stiffness of the limbs and trunk, slowness of movement, and impaired balance and coordination. It should be noted that farm workers and farmers are not the only populations at high risk of developing Parkinson’s disease as a result of paraquat exposure, as medical studies have shown that any exposure to paraquat is within a 1,600 foot radius Keeping a home increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by 75%. Therefore, people who live in close proximity to farming communities are also at high risk of struggling with this brain disorder.
The lawsuits filed against paraquat manufacturers
10 former farm workers, including Thomas and Diana Hoffman, were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease on October 6, 2017 in St. Clair County, Illinois as a result of paraquat exposure to several companies that manufacture the herbicide, including Syngenta, Chevron Chemical Company and Growmark, Inc. All plaintiffs are Illinois residents and are seeking compensation for personal injury resulting from exposure to paraquat that led to the development of Parkinson’s disease in them or their spouses. One of the plaintiffs, who recently joined the lawsuit, had regularly used paraquat on her parents’ farm between 1975 and 2017 and on her own farm from 1980 to 2017, growing corn, soybeans and wheat. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2019.
However, this is not the only lawsuit against manufacturers of paraquat, as another lawsuit is currently pending in California alleging Missouri-based plaintiff Russell Denes allegedly developed Parkinson’s disease as a result of paraquat exposure despite completing certification training that Required by the Environmental Protection Agency to use the herbicide. In addition, Paul Rakoczy, a former farm worker who used paraquat between 2013 and 2017 and was exposed to it through skin absorption, ingestion and inhalation while using the herbicide in Long Beach, California, filed a lawsuit against Syngenta on March 25, 2021 one received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease in December 2015.
Finally, Marvin Wendler’s wife, Lorena Wendler, filed another lawsuit against the company in December 2018, which was exposed to frequent low doses of paraquat while using it in Illinois. She also struggled with Parkinson’s disease as a result of paraquat exposure. Her lawsuit has also been filed against Chevron Phillips Chemical Company LP, Bergmann-Taylor Inc., and Growmark Inc. Another lawsuit was filed in federal court in March 2021 against Syngenta by Stephen Durbin, who was repeatedly exposed to paraquat between 1983 and 2002.
Independently of the lawsuits, plaintiffs allege that the companies that made the paraquat they used did not warn of the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease as a result of frequent exposure. You are asserting personal injury, negligence and product liability. We should expect more and more lawsuits and claims against companies that manufacture paraquat in the future, as the use of this herbicide undoubtedly increases with the resistance of weeds and grasses to other products.
The “Protection Against Paraquat Act”
Nadya Velasquez, a politician who has served in the United States House of Representatives since 1993, recently introduced the Protect Against Paraquat Act, which aims to completely ban this herbicide in the country. Currently, paraquat is banned in 32 countries, including China, which is notorious for neglecting the wellbeing of its farm workers. According to the document, their job is to cancel the registration of all uses of the pesticide paraquat and for other purposes. In addition, the Paraquat Protection Act states that paraquat has generally undue adverse effects on humans in part because of its acute systemic toxicity and as a known neurotoxin that causes Parkinson’s disease. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to make a decision on approving or rejecting the Protect Against Paraquat Act by the end of 2022.