According to studies, farmers and agricultural workers may be at risk of developing Parkinson’s disease from exposure to the herbicide, Paraquat.
Paraquat is a chemical herbicide used on over 100 different types of crops throughout the United States. Studies have linked Paraquat to Parkinson’s disease, a progressive ailment that affects the motor functions.
Paraquat dichloride (paraquat) was not popularized as an herbicide until the mid-20th century. It gained notoriety during the 1980’s as the Drug Enforcement Agency attempted to use paraquat to kill marijuana crops in the US and Mexico.
Paraquat is incredibly toxic to humans. A lethal dose for the average person is about 2.5 grams.
It has been used as an alternative to Roundup, a long-preferred pesticide within the agricultural industry. However, Roundup has been linked to causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in two landmark cases (here and here) in California within the last year alone. Hundreds of Roundup Lawsuits have been filed across the country.
Paraquat and Parkinson’s Disease Studies
In February 2011, the National Institute of Health (NIH) conducted a study – known as Farming and Movement Evaluation (FAME), based off claims that exposure to paraquat could be linked to Parkinson’s disease.
Researchers claimed the study showed people were two and a half times more likely to develop Parkinson’s after exposure to Paraquat. Syngenta, the Swiss manufacturer of Paraquat, claimed the opposite– that farmers are less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.
The FAME study pulled data from a larger project, known as the Agricultural Health Study. The AHS tracked over 80,000 farmers, agricultural workers (and their spouses) and identified 115 of those individuals who had developed Parkinson’s. Out of that number, 110 were willing to provide information about the herbicide they were in frequent contact with.
Again, Syngenta claimed the opposite. The company attempted to say the study was inconclusive and there was not a direct correlation to Parkinson’s and Paraquat exposure.
Countering Syngenta’s argument was Dr. Caroline M. Tanner, director of the Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education and Clinical Centers at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Dr. Freya Kamel, a scientist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a branch of the National Institutes of Health and a co-author of the FAME study, said that because the FAME study was self-reported, there were probably more individuals with Parkinson’s who didn’t enroll.
Additionally, Dr. Kamel said data from the FAME study was “about as persuasive as things can get.”
Moreover, the AHS reported associations between Paraquat and thyroid disease; as well as wheezing and chronic bronchitis among non-smoking women. The EPA confirmed the large sample size was one of the strengths of the study in a memorandum from 2016.
The EPA report said: “Based on toxicity data and incident reporting, it clear that paraquat is a highly toxic substance through all routes of exposure — ingestion, inhalation, and contact with the skin and eyes.”
The Genetic Modification of the Association of Paraquat and Parkinson’s Disease was another study conducted in 2012. It found individuals who used Paraquat and who had a specific genetic variation were 11 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s. The conclusion indicated that some people are at greater risk than others.
Reuters reported on a study conducted in 2012 titled “Traumatic brain injury, paraquat exposure, and their relationship to Parkinson disease.” The study evaluated hundreds of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s in Central California, an agricultural region with a heavy use of pesticides.
The study indicated traumatic brain injury and pesticide exposure might not be directly related, but they could have an effect on one another. That’s because a head injury can increase inflammation and cause a disruption to the brain. Should the individual then be exposed to pesticides, the neurons of the brain might be more vulnerable to ailments such as Parkinson’s.
A study in Nature Chemical Biology backed up results from the FAME study that Paraquat causes Parkinson’s disease. Due to what is known as a CRISPR Screen, researchers found correlation between Parkinson’s and Paraquat. This gene-editing technique allowed researchers to identify genes that may lead to Parkinson’s disease after being exposed to Paraquat. Additionally, they found Paraquat was found to kill cells through ‘oxidative stress’.
Paraquat Banned Across the Globe
Largely based on human health concerns, Paraquat is currently banned in 32 countries, including the European Union. Ironically enough, even though Paraquat is manufactured by Swiss-based Syngenta, it has been banned in Switzerland since 1989.
It has been controversial in other countries. The prime minister of Laos, an impoverished country, was concerned about the use of Paraquat on banana plantations even though farming was helping to improve economic conditions.
“Since last year, I have ordered a prohibition on renting out more agricultural land for banana plantations to investors because of the damage from chemical contamination,” he said in a Facebook post.
In 2016, over 15 million acres of land were sprayed with nearly 7 million pounds of Paraquat.
Michael J. Fox Foundation Letter to EPA
In July 2017, the Unified Parkinson’s Advocacy Council (UPAC) wrote a letter to the EPA, urging the agency to consider banning Paraquat in the United States. UPAC is led by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF), one of the largest Parkinson’s advocacy groups in the country.
The EPA has required restrictive use on Paraquat, which requires individuals to be certified in safe-handling practices and participate in additional training. While UPAC said it supports such mitigations, the danger is still present, regardless of its limited use. “Restricting the use of the chemical to those with a license is therefore insufficient to protect all people,” the letter said.
Advocates of Paraquat commonly cite that banning it would place unfair economic limitations of small family farmers who use it to keep business going. While UPAC said it sympathized with these reasons, the letter also urged the EPA to back up alternative methods.
“However, it is possible to utilize alternative means of pest-control while still obtaining an adequate yield. Sustainable practices such as crop rotation, integrated pest management or biopesticides can play a significant role in reducing the use of harsh chemicals in the food system,” the letter said.
According to UPAC, people spend roughly $26,400 per year on Parkinson’s treatment. It places anywhere from $19.8 to $26.4 billion economic burden on the US due to reliance upon Medicaid, Social Security Disability Insurance, and Medicare.
“Studies also indicate that exposure to paraquat, either directly or through air or clothing-borne herbicide drift, markedly increases risk of developing Parkinson’s,” the letter stated. UPAC strongly urges the EPA to ban Paraquat use in the United States the same way 32 other countries have.
“Because paraquat remains one of the most widely used herbicides worldwide, this finding potentially has great public health significance.”
In a lawsuit filed in St. Clair County, Ill., plaintiffs allege that the manufacturers, Syngenta and Growmark, sold the herbicide by various names since 1964. Additionally, plaintiffs claim Chevron Chemical acted in concert with Syngenta and Growmark.
The plaintiffs were completely unaware of the health risks until the recent studies linking Paraquat to Parkinson’s disease.
According to the American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA), there are both motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The National Parkinson Foundation estimates that nearly 50,000 to 60,000 adults in the US are diagnosed with Parkinson’s each year.
There are five primary motor symptoms, but not all of them have to be present for a diagnosis:
Tremor: slow, rhythmic temors typically start at the hand, foot or leg and eventually spread to the other side of the body. It can also occur in the jaw, chin, mouth, tongue, and in some cases, there may be the feeling of an “internal” tremor.
Rigidity: a tight or stiff feeling of the limbs or torso. Oftentimes, it may be attributed to arthritis or orthopedic problems during the early stages.
Bradykinesia: a general slowness of movement characterized by a reduced or mask-like expression of the face known as hypomimia or facial masking, decreased eye blink rate, fine motor difficulties.
Postural Instability: includes balance problems such as maintaining an upright posture. This is associated with falling backwards (retropulsion).
Walking or gait problems: There may be a decrease in the natural swing of arms when walking, steps may become slower and smaller. A tendency to propel forward with short and rapid steps (propulsion). Some people may experience freezing, where both feet look like they’re glued to the floor.
Vocal symptoms: Many people experience softer voices, or one that is stronger and fades away. Volume and emotion are varied, so oftentimes individuals may speak with a monotone voice. Slurring or rapid speaking may also be present.
Non-motor symptoms include:
- Eye and vision issues
- Personality changes
- Depression or anxiety
- Weight loss
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Cognitive changes
- Urinary issues
- Sexual concerns
- Disturbances in sense of smell
- Sleep problems
Do I have a Paraquat Lawsuit?
If you or a loved one have been exposed to Paraquat, or the similar herbicide Rotenone, and developed Parkinson’s disease, or believe you are in the beginning stages of Parkinson’s disease, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit.
By filing a lawsuit, you may be able to obtain financial compensation for your injuries. Please contact us to discuss your potential case. We offer a free case review and would be honored to speak with you.