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Paraquat and Parkinson’s-What You Need to Know

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

Paraquat is an herbicide manufactured and distributed by a few large corporations including Cevron Chemical, Chevron USA Inc., and Chevron Phillips (1964 to 1986) The herbicide is known by six various brand names—Gramaxone (most popular). Firestorm, Cyclone, Helmaquat, Parazone, and Para Shot.

Paraquat is a Group 22 herbicide sold under brand names like Gramaxone, Firestorm and Parazone. Its use has increased steadily in the U.S. since 2013, with the growth of herbicide resistance in weed populations. Applications rose from under 5 million pounds a year to as high as 12 million pounds per year in 2017, with most growth concentrated in soybeans, cotton, orchards and pasture.

Paraquat has been the target of lawsuits and controversy in the past, given its high toxicity, its role in poisoning accidents and research suggesting it might be linked to Parkinson’s disease. Most recently, legislation was introduced in Congress to halt the use of pesticides that are banned in the EU or Canada, which would include paraquat

In recent years, its popularity has increase due to the ineffectiveness and notoriety of Roundup.  However, that is not to safe it is safe or doesn’t come with its own set of problems.  It has been banned in Europe for ten years due to its acute pulmonary and cutaneous toxicity. Other countries have established restrictive use measures, such as limited concentrations of the active ingredient in formulated products and manipulation only by licensed mixers and ground applicators    In the United States, a landscaper must have a license in order to apply it.  In order to restrict its potential use by homeowners, it’s not available at popular stores such as Home Depot or Lowes.

Paraquat (1,1′-dimethyl-4,4′-bipyridine), an important member of the bipyridylium family of broad spectrum herbicides, is commonly used to control pests in several crops, such as soybeans, sorghum, sugar cane, cotton, corn, apple, among others. It interferes with photosynthetic electron transport, reducing oxygen to superoxide subsequent leading to membrane rupture and desiccation of leaves.

Over the past decades, several epidemiological studies have suggested an association between exposure to pesticides as well as other environmental factors such as rural living, farming, and well water consumption, with an increased risk for Parkinson’s Disease (PD) development. 

The same properties that make paraquat toxic to plants and animals are what cause Parkinson’s disease in humans, according to studies cited in lawsuits.

Scientists think Parkinson’s disease is caused by the death of neurons that produce dopamine in the brain.

Studies have shown paraquat creates oxidative stress that kills dopamine-producing neurons. The scientific community has known about paraquat’s oxidative stress qualities since the 1960s, according to lawsuits.

In October 2020, EPA took an important step in its regulatory review of paraquat—an herbicide used in agricultural and commercial settings only. The Agency is seeking public input on the Proposed Interim Decision. The Proposed Interim Decision proposes new mitigation measures to reduce potential ecological risks and protect public health based on the findings in the draft risk assessments and comments submitted during the public comment period. The Proposed Interim Decision is the next step in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) registration review process and is not a denial or an approval of the herbicide.

To prevent severe injury and/or death from paraquat ingestion, all paraquat products must:

  • Be used only by a certified applicator. Unlike most other restricted-use products, paraquat may not be used by persons working under the supervision of a certified applicator.
  • Never be transferred to a food, drink or any other container. New packaging requirements will help to prevent this from occurring.
  • Always be kept secured to prevent access by children and/or other unauthorized persons.
  • Never be stored in or around residential dwellings.
  • Never be used around home gardens, schools, recreational parks, golf courses or playgrounds.

To prevent severe injury and/or death from skin or eye exposure to paraquat:

  • Follow label instructions.
  • Use the required personal protective equipment specified on the product label.

If you or a loved one used Paraquat or lived in a rural community within a close radius of the Paraquat application and been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, you should contact our firm as soon as possible. 

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