Paraquat is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world. It is also one of the most dangerous. Scientists have long known that paraquat, often referred to as Gramoxone, is acutely toxic. Paraquat is so toxic, in fact, that a single sip of the herbicide can kill an adult. But in recent years, evidence has accumulated showing that repeated exposure to paraquat in low doses may be linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease. According to one study, exposure to paraquat increases the risk of Parkinson’s by 150 percent. More than 60 countries have banned the use of paraquat. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has done little to restrict its use, despite growing health concerns and legal challenges over the herbicide’s connection to Parkinson’s. Syngenta, the main producer of paraquat, denies that there is a definitive link between paraquat and Parkinson’s. But with paraquat use increasing in the U.S., agricultural workers and farmers continue to face exposure risks. Many have already filed lawsuits claiming that they developed Parkinson’s disease as a result of exposure to paraquat, and that Syngenta failed to warn about this serious risk.
How Is Paraquat Used?Paraquat is widely used by farmers in the production of crops, including corn, soy, cotton, peanuts, wheat, almonds, strawberries, grapes, sweet potatoes, and others. Its use has doubled over the past decade and is expected to grow due to its effectiveness on “superweeds” that have developed resistance to glyphosate (i.e. Roundup). It can also be used for the desiccation of crops, such as cotton, prior to harvest. In total, farmers apply more than 10 million pounds of paraquat each year. Because of its toxicity, the EPA classifies paraquat as a “restricted use pesticide.” Only certified applicators who undergo EPA-approved training are able to use paraquat products. There are no homeowner uses for paraquat and the herbicide may not be applied in residential areas or around schools, parks, golf courses, or playgrounds.
Estimated Agrucultury Use for Paraquat, 2017 EPest- Low
Is There a Link Between Parkinson’s Disease and Paraquat Exposure?Sientific research has concluded that those who use paraquat are twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease in the future. Not only that, but those who live in an area where paraquat is used are also at risk, as the wind can carry the airborne chemical into neighborhoods and other populated areas. Despite numerous scientific studies into paraquat’s safety, the company responsible for the pesticide refused to acknowledge the potential risks and exposed thousands of innocent individuals to a hazardous chemical for over a decade.
What is the Scientific Link Between Paraquat and Parkinson’s Disease?Numerous scientific studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson’s. A large 2011 study of U.S. farmers found that those who used paraquat were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as those who didn’t use the chemical. Other research has found that cumulative exposure over long periods increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s. Data published by Louisiana State University shows that a person’s zip code and proximity to cropland where paraquat is applied correlates with the risk of developing Parkinson’s. Scientists believe that a deficit of the neurotransmitter dopamine causes Parkinson’s. Studies have demonstrated that paraquat can kill dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain. Inhaling paraquat, which could happen if workers come into contact with aerosolized droplets during crop spraying, gives it a direct pathway to the brain, say researchers at the University of Rochester. However, paraquat could also end up in the brain after ingestion or skin exposure. The CDC notes that, once paraquat enters the body, it is distributed to all areas of the body.
Who Is at Risk of Developing Parkinson’s From Paraquat Exposure?Farmers and agricultural workers who work directly with and around paraquat are at the greatest risk of being exposed to paraquat. Exposure is most likely to occur in the following ways:
- Mixing or loading paraquat
- Spraying paraquat
- Maintaining tanks and equipment used to spray paraquat
- Spending time in fields where paraquat was sprayed