Paraquat Weed Killer Linked to Parkinson’s Disease

By: Seeger Weiss on December 23, 2016

Paraquat has been sold and used in the U.S. for decades as an efficient weed killer, but the deadly chemical has been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease.

It has been known for a long time that paraquat is deadly to humans if they are exposed to it. If it lands on a person’s skin, it has a corrosive effect. If ingested, a single sip can be lethal, and there is no known antidote. But more recent studies have shown that it might have neurotoxic properties as well; specifically, a growing body of research shows that paraquat is linked to Parkinson’s disease.

The Environmental Protection Agency advised in March 2016 that there was a large amount of epidemiological data on the connection between Parkinson’s and paraquat. They also noted connections to thyroid disease and wheezing and chronic bronchitis among non-smoking women, but cautioned that these associations required further study as the current data did not strongly support a causal link with paraquat.

According to the EPA, paraquat is widely used in the U.S. as an herbicide (used to kill weeds) and desiccant (used to control moisture levels) in the production of row crops, orchard crops, fruits, and vegetables. Paraquat is employed in the production of over 100 crops, including cotton, potatoes, tomatoes, dry beans, coffee, oranges, canola, and sugarcane. It is also used in fallow (not currently crop-producing) land and in industrial and commercial settings, such as storage yards. It is not registered for homeowner use, and there is no paraquat product currently registered for use in residential areas.

The New York Times reported that in the U.S. last year seven million pounds of paraquat were used on almost 15 million acres.

While the possibility of a Parkinson’s link has been cited in studies going back more than two decades, research in the past five years has intensified, including a prominent study by the National Institutes of Health and meta-analyses of a large body of research. The studies have looked at the exposure of farmers and others who spray paraquat, as well as people who live near where it is used, which can include non-agricultural settings like those around roads and rail tracks. [New York Times]

According to one 2011 study, people who used paraquat or rotenone (another pesticide) were 2.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s.

“I’m not a farmer, I don’t need to kill weeds, but I have to believe there are less dangerous options out there,” Dr. Samuel M. Goldman, an epidemiologist who has studied paraquat’s connection to Parkinson’s, told the Times.  Freya Kamel, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, who authored a 2013 study on the subject (“Paths from Pesticides to Parkinson’s”) added that the research was “about as persuasive as these things get.”

When it comes to responding to the growing concerns surrounding paraquat, the U.S. has acted more slowly than other nations, some of which still manufacture the chemical even though they do not allow it to be sold within their borders. A plant in northern England, owned by the Swiss company Syngenta, produces paraquat for export — but the chemical is banned for sale in Europe. Likewise, China continues to produce paraquat for export, but said in 2012 that it planned to phase out its domestic use because of safety concerns.

Many have been successful in recovering damages for lost wages, pain and suffering, and medical costs as a result of exposure to herbicides and pesticides. If you have recently lost a loved one as a result of his or her exposure to paraquat or suspected exposure to paraquat, family members may be eligible to recover expenses. Contact an experienced attorney today.

Resources:

  • Hakim, Danny. (December 20, 2016). “This Pesticide Is Prohibited in Britain. Why Is It Still Being Exported?” New York Times
  • Kamel, Freya (August 16, 2013). “Paths from Pesticides to Parkinson’s.” Science.
  • National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (February 15, 2011). “Two pesticides — rotenone and paraquat — linked to Parkinson’s disease, study suggests.” sciencedaily.com.
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. (March 2, 2016). Paraquat Dichloride; Proposed Interim Mitigation Decision.
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