Paraquat is a highly toxic and widely used herbicide and, according to Friends of the Earth, is the “most acutely toxic herbicide” in the U.S.
Manufactured by the Swiss company, Syngenta, paraquat is used to kill various types of weeds in soybean fields and crops, including marijuana. According to the Department of Agriculture, on U.S. soybeans, the number of pounds used is up more than fourfold over the past decade.
If the smoke from the crop is inhaled, it can cause lung damage. And its use had doubled between 2006 and 2016 according to the National Water-Quality Assessment Project (NAWQA).
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “one small sip can be fatal and there is no antidote.”
The Syngenta plant in Huddersfield, England produces the weed killer.
Its use has been banned in the European Union since 2007 and paraquat is being phased out in Brazil, and even China began phasing out use in 2012 “to safeguard people’s lives,” but in the U.S. last October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reregistered paraquat and agreed to allow its continued agricultural use here.
While the herbicide Roundup is the subject of about 125,000 lawsuits because of its suspected link to Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, and multiple cancers, paraquat is just now emerging as the target of a growing number of product liability lawsuits with a suspected link to Parkinson’s Disease.
What regulators have not stopped, lawsuits may.
Uses for Syngenta Paraquat
Weeds have become resistant to Monsanto’s popular Roundup, so paraquat is marketed as an alternative.
Paraquat dichloride is also known as Gramoxone SL 2.0 Herbicide. Other names include:
Paraquat products must be registered for use in the U.S. and they are considered Restricted Use Pesticide (RUPS). Because of its toxicity, any user must be a trained certified applicator.
The Link to Parkinson’s Disease
There has been a suspected link and emerging evidence linking paraquat to Parkinson’s for decades but a National Institutes of Health (NIH) meta-analysis of 104 studies and more than 3,000 citations was a game-changer. It showed elevated health effects, such as Parkinson’s Disease (PD) on farmers, and people living near the fields where it’s used.
Parkinson’s is characterized by tremors, body rigidity, and impaired balance which does not improve with treatment. Exposure to paraquat was associated with about a two-fold increase in risk.
A scientist with the National Institutes of Health, Freyda Kamel, said research on the link was “about as persuasive as these things can get.”
Health consequences have been known for years and a low level of exposure can even cause adverse health effects. They include:
- Parkinson’s disease- paraquat exposure more than doubles the risk of developing Parkinson’s
- Brain damage
- Kidney injury
- Liver injury and failure
- Lung damage
- Heart failure
- Birth defects and stillbirths
- A reduced sense of smell
Besides human exposure, paraquat lingers in the environment affecting amphibians, fish, and rabbits.
The Protect Against Paraquat Act, introduced in July 2019 will protect the environment and farm workers. https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/3817
H.R. 3817 has been referred to the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research calls for the EPA to cancel the registration for all uses of paraquat, to ban its sale and eliminate the existing stock of paraquat as well as ban its residue on food.
At least 14 lawsuits around the country have been filed by agricultural workers exposed to the herbicide who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. A motion has been filed to have the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) form an MDL in federal court in the Northern District of California.
Litigation claims the defendants failed their responsibilities to warn workers and failed to take any precautions to prevent exposure. There was a failure to properly instruct certified applicators to avoid toxic exposure.
For its part, Syngenta has long rebutted the link saying, “We would never market or continue to market any chemical which we genuinely felt posed a health risk or an environmental risk.”
But internal company documents show a debate within the company on how to make the product safer.
[See Paul Rakoczy v. Syngenta Crop Protection et al., Case No. 4:21-CV-02083, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California; and Michael Joseph Kearns et al. v. Syngenta Crop Protection et al., Case No. 3:21-CV-00278, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.]
The lawsuits name Syngenta, the Swiss company, and Chevron USA, which held the rights to sell paraquat under a 1960s agreement. Syngenta is now owned by the Chinese National Chemical Corporation, ChemChina, after a 2016 merger.
For its part, Syngenta has long rebutted the link saying “We would never market or continue to market any chemical which we genuinely felt posed a health risk or an environmental risk.”
According to one law firm, that in March filed the first two product defect lawsuits against Syngenta, the company ignored and downplayed the known risks despite decades of research linking the weed killer to Parkinson’s Disease.
A trial is set for May 10 in St. Clair County Circuit Court in Illinois. Hoffman v Syngenta promises to show jurors that Syngenta knew for decades its product causes Parkinson’s Disease.
Litigators may also want to focus on each of the EPA’s Restricted Use Products (RUPs) that are coming up for review. ###
Mass tort nexus
Environmental Health News
- https://www.regulations.gov/docket/EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0855/document https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-worker-safety/restricted-use-products-rup-report