Paraquat is an extremely toxic, restricted use chemical commonly used as a herbicide in the U.S. agricultural and commercial farming industries since the 1960s. Scientists have linked exposure to an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. It was banned in the European Union in 2007.
Paraquat is a chemical commonly used as a herbicide in the U.S. agricultural and commercial farming industries since the 1960s. It’s manufactured by many companies, including Syngenta and Chevron Chemical Companies. Paraquat is cost-effective and fast-acting, making it one of the most popular herbicides in the United States.
Paraquat is a restricted use chemical due to its extreme toxicity, meaning only licensed professionals are allowed to buy and use it. The chemical is most harmful when ingested, although skin contact and inhalation can also lead to injury and long-term health issues. Among those issues, scientists have linked exposure to paraquat to an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
That link played a role in the European Union’s decision to ban paraquat use in 2007, finding that a previous decision to allow it was based on the false notion that the chemical had no neurotoxic associations. Officials believed more consideration should have been given to studies linking paraquat to Parkinson’s disease.
There are ongoing, international battles to ban paraquat, including multiple unsuccessful legislative acts in the United States. In lieu of a full ban of paraquat, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued new proposed safety measures in 2021, including limiting aerial application.
When it was first manufactured and sold by the Imperial Chemical Industries in 1962, paraquat’s trade name was Gramoxone. Other chemical names include:
- Paraquat dichloride
- Methyl viologen dichloride
Only licensed professionals may use paraquat, so those most likely to be exposed are commercial farmers or agricultural workers. Paraquat is harmful with ingested or inhaled, or through skin contact.
Those who live close to commercial farms or agricultural centers where the chemical is used are also at risk of exposure through spray drift or water contamination. Likewise, those who live with commercial farmers or agricultural workers, like spouses or children, are also at risk through coming into contact with contaminated clothing or equipment.
Multiple studies, including several cited by Agricultural Health Study, have linked exposure to paraquat to an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. Further, studies shared by the Unified Parkinson’s Advocacy Council to members of U.S. Congress found that individuals exposed to paraquat as a teen or young adult were between 200 and 600 percent more likely to develop the disease later in life.
Exposure to paraquat, especially ingesting it, can also result in:
- Heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
- Lung scarring
- Pulmonary edema
- Esophageal scarring
More on Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder with no known cure. It affects the dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra area of the brain, leading to a broad range of symptoms that typically develop slowly over the years.
In lab settings, scientists have observed paraquat’s ability to destroy dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra, further supporting the chemical’s link to Parkinson’s.
Although Parkinson’s disease on its own is not fatal, a person may experience other dangerous or even deadly complications as a result of their Parkinson’s diagnosis. For this reason, the CDC rated complications from Parkinson’s disease as the 14th cause of death in the U.S.
Symptoms and symptom progression can vary greatly among Parkinson’s patients. Some of the most common include:
- Tremor, mainly at rest and described as pill rolling tremor in hands. Other forms of tremor are possible
- Bradykinesia (slow or difficult movement)
- Limb rigidity
- Gait and balance problems
As recently as 2021, the EPA has declined to issue a ban on paraquat. Instead, they proposed a bevy of safety measures to limit harmful exposure to humans and the environment, including these:
- Limit aerial applications to a maximum of 350 acres per applicator per 24-hr period for all uses except cotton desiccation;
- Require a residential area drift buffer for all aerial applications;
- Prohibit use of human flaggers;
- Prohibit pressurized handgun and backpack sprayer application methods;
- Require enclosed cabs if area treated in 24-hour period is more than 80 acres;
- Require enclosed cabs or PF10 respirators if area treated in 24-hour period is 80 acres or less;
- Require mandatory spray drift management label language.
As the EPA continues to decide the future of paraquat in the U.S., several pieces of legislation have been introduced to ban the chemical, including the 2020 Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act, which highlighted the increased risk for Parkinson’s, and the Protect Against Paraquat Act of 2019. Both pieces were unsuccessful.
Unfortunately, there are no “safe” commercial herbicides. In a commercial farming or agricultural setting, it’s more a matter of identifying a less harmful chemical as paraquat is one of the most toxic products available. The Plant & Pest Advisory arm of Rutgers has identified several chemical alternatives here.
Paraquat litigation is ongoing, with many people filing suit against manufacturers. Most of these claims allege exposure to paraquat resulted in their Parkinson’s disease diagnosis, though some are suing for damages as a result of other injuries, like kidney disease.
A 2018 financial report from Syngenta, a paraquat manufacturer, appears to suggest lawsuits were filed as early as 2016. Most lawsuits are from commercial farmers and agricultural workers who were exposed on the job. However, others are filing claims after being exposed to chemical drift and water contamination.
Here are a few ongoing lawsuit samplings from DrugWatch:
Holliday et al. v. Syngenta et al.
May 3, 2021 — Iowa farmer Doug Holliday filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of himself and others against Syngenta and Chevron USA for putting people at increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and failing to warn them. Holliday had been spraying paraquat on thousands of acres of crop ground since the 1990s.
Pratt v. Syngenta et al.
April 22, 2021 — Illinois resident Ellis Pratt filed a paraquat lawsuit claiming long-term exposure to the weed killer led him to develop renal disease. Pratt was exposed to paraquat through direct exposure, contamination of his drinking water and pesticide drift for about 11 years and was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2021.
Adams v. Syngenta et al.
April 12, 2021 — Missouri resident Robin Adams’ lawsuit claims: “Syngenta has long misrepresented and denied the harmful side effects of its Paraquat-based product.” Adams’ husband was a certified paraquat applicator. Both of them routinely sprayed paraquat products. She developed Parkinson’s disease after more than 15 years of paraquat exposure by pesticide drift, direct exposure and drinking water contamination.
Anyone who was exposed to paraquat and later diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease can decide to file a lawsuit, but only a lawyer will be able to tell you for certain if you may qualify for a settlement.
For more information on paraquat and Parkinson’s disease, visit these trusted sources.
- Facts About Paraquat – U.S. Centers for Disease Control
- Paraquat Dichloride – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Two pesticides — rotenone and paraquat — linked to Parkinson’s disease, study suggests – ScienceDaily
- Paraquat and Parkinson’s disease – A.H. Rajput, Ryan J. Uitti, Mayo Clinic Research Profiles
- Parkinson’s disease – Mayo Clinic
- Parkinson’s Foundation