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In a newly filed paraquat lawsuit, a Michigan man claims to have developed Parkinson’s disease after being exposed to the herbicide. He blames the manufacturers for his condition and seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

The case is now pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. All federally filed paraquat lawsuits were consolidated in this court back in June 2021.

Plaintiff Says Paraquat Makers Knew but Failed to Warn About the Risks

According to his complaint, the plaintiff previously worked as a farmhand in the agricultural business, working on various Michigan farms as a teenager and through his young adult years. During that time, he was exposed to paraquat when applying it, as a result of spray drift, and when coming into contact with sprayed plants in the various fields where he worked.

He was subsequently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in September 2018.

He argues that the defendants knew that people like himself could be exposed to paraquat via absorption through the skin and mucous membranes, through the olfactory bulb, through respiration into the lungs, and through ingestion into the digestive tract of small droplets swallowed.

He adds that it was “reasonably foreseeable” that paraquat could enter the human body via these methods, and thus ultimately enter the brain.

Yet the defendants—Syngenta AG and Chevron USA, along with many others—failed to provide the proper warnings about the risks, and failed to adequately test the herbicide to make sure it was safe enough for widespread use.

Paraquat Can Kill Critical Nerve Cells in the Brain

One of the primary characteristics of Parkinson’s disease is the degeneration and death of dopaminergic neurons (dopamine-producing cells) in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is critical to the brain’s control of motor function, among other things.

Once these dopaminergic neurons die, they cannot be replaced. Soon there aren’t enough left to produce the dopamine needed for normal muscular function. As dopamine levels fall, symptoms of Parkinson’s disease increase.

Scientists know that dopaminergic neurons are particularly susceptible to oxidative stress—a type of damage caused by free radicals in the brain. Paraquat does its job (killing weeds) by creating oxidative stress in the plant cells. This fact has been known since at least the 1930s.

Scientific Studies Link Paraquat to Parkinson’s Disease

That paraquat can kill cells in the human body—particularly nerve cells in the brain—the same way it does in plants has also long been understood. So efficient is the herbicide at its job that it is one of only a handful of toxins used to produce animal models of Parkinson’s disease for use in the laboratory.

Both lab and animal studies have found that paraquat creates oxidative stress and results in the degeneration and death of dopaminergic neurons. More recently, human studies have found evidence suggesting that paraquat exposure can increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease, particularly in those who are exposed over long periods.

The plaintiff brings counts of design defect, failure to warn, negligence, and breach of warranties, while his spouse claims loss of consortium.

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