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Tractor spray fertilize field with insecticide herbicide chemicals in agriculture field

A Louisiana man recently filed a new paraquat lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. He names as defendants the manufacturers of the herbicide, including Syngenta AG and Chevron USA, Inc. He brings the action against them to recover damages for personal injuries and other economic damages resulting from his exposure to paraquat for many years.

Plaintiff Blames His Parkinson’s Diagnosis on Paraquat

According to his complaint, the plaintiff used the defendants’ paraquat products routinely from the 1980s until about 1998. He grew up working on his father’s farm, raising soybeans and sugar cane. Later, he worked for the Parish of Lafourche as a dragline operator, where he would spray paraquat over roughly 200 acres. He would mix the chemicals in tanks and spray them on water lilies and other vegetation.

In 2020, the plaintiff was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which he blames on his prolonged exposure to paraquat.

What is Paraquat?

Known as paraquat dichloride or paraquat methosulfate, paraquat is sold in the United States under the brand names Starfire, Cyclone, Bonedry, Firestorm, Helmquat, Devour, Bonfire, Crisquat, Sweep, Blanco, Gramoxone, Ortho Paraquat CL, and Ortho Dual Paraquat, among others.

Farmers use paraquat to kill broadleaf weeds and grasses before the planting or emergence of more than 100 fields, fruit, vegetable, and plantation crops, to control weeds in orchards, and to desiccate (dry) plants before harvest.

The herbicide is typically sold in the form of liquid concentrates that are diluted with water in the tank of a sprayer and applied by spraying the diluted solution onto target weeds. The concentrates are usually formulated with surfactants or “crop oils” that increase the ability of paraquat to adhere to and penetrate the leaves of the target plants.

Users employ knapsack sprayers, hand-held sprayers, aircraft (crop dusters), and truck- and tractor-drawn pressurized tanks to apply the herbicide.

EPA Takes Action to Protect Paraquat Users and Bystanders

Paraquat is highly toxic not only to weeds but to humans as well. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “one small sip can be fatal and there is no antidote.” In a 2019 draft human health risk assessment, the EPA identified potential risks to workers applying paraquat or entering fields after application. It also noted risks to bystanders at the edge of the field during application.

Though the EPA concluded, based on its review, that there was insufficient evidence to link paraquat products to health problems, including Parkinson’s disease, it released the draft for public comment. After reviewing those comments, in October 2020, the EPA released its proposed interim decision, in which it suggested the following protections and more to reduce exposure to paraquat:

  • Prohibiting aerial application for all uses and use sites except cotton desiccation.
  • Prohibiting pressurized handgun and backpack sprayer application methods on the label.
  • Requiring enclosed cabs or PF10 respirators if the area treated in a 24-hour period is 80 acres or less.
  • Adding mandatory spray drift management label language.

The EPA also requires that anyone applying paraquat is certified to do so. The herbicide is not approved for residential use.

Studies Link Paraquat Exposure to Parkinson’s

Despite the precautions the EPA has taken, plaintiffs who have developed Parkinson’s disease say that it’s not enough. They point to animal studies that have shown evidence of lung inflammation, scarring, and compromised lung function in response to paraquat exposure, as well as epidemiological evidence of a link between paraquat and Parkinson’s.

In 2018, researchers from the University of Guelph found that low-level exposure to pesticides like paraquat disrupted cells in a way that mimicked the effects of mutations known to cause PD. The following year, researchers conducted a systematic review of the literature and found that PD occurrence was 25 percent higher in participants exposed to paraquat. Results from a subgroup analysis also indicated a higher PD frequency in those who were exposed to the herbicide for longer periods.

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