Paraquat: How Long Did These Corporations Knowingly Peddle the Poison?
It has been described as the deadliest weedkiller on the planet. It also has been described as the most prevalent weedkiller on the planet. And now it is being described as the hot topic of a series of lawsuits filed against two companies that Calvin Warriner of Searcy Denney and Mark DiCello, of DiCello Levitt Gutzler – two of three leading tort firms involved in the litigation – said “have long known they were peddling this poison” and “should be held accountable through the American justice system.”
The companies, Chevron Phillips Chemical and Syngenta, manufacture and market paraquat, a liquid chemical used on farms and ranches to clear fields for fresh crops. But as Sustainability Times states in a recent news article, a single sip of the substance can be fatal as there is no antidote.
“No one knows the total number of people who have died from swallowing this chemical since the British company Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) first put Gramoxone on the market in 1962,” according to the article. “But according to one leading global authority on pesticide poisoning, University of Edinburgh professor of clinical toxicology Michael Eddleston, the figure must be at least in the tens of thousands.”
Syngenta, which since has taken over ICI, exports massive amounts of paraquat around the world even though over 50 countries have banned the substance from being applied to their soil. Still, the company stands by its product.
“Paraquat is a herbicide that is widely used by farmers to save arduous labor, protect against invasive weeds and produce agronomically important crops like soy, corn and cotton,” it said in a media statement. “Paraquat helps reduce soil erosion, and protect soil health and the effects of climate change. Paraquat is important for conservation agriculture by enabling reduced- and no-tillage farming. This helps improve soil health while reducing erosion and fuel use, which contributes to improved air and water quality, and wildlife habitat. Paraquat provides cost-effective protection against crop yield losses in many agronomically important regions where corn, cotton, and soybeans are grown, among other crops. It dries rapidly which enables growers to control the harvest timing, especially important when adverse weather is forecasted or to salvage a field that was impacted by poor weed control.”
Such a corporate, tone-deaf response to the climbing death toll of its main moneymaker is the crux of the complaint involving not only DiCello but also attorneys Lawrence Cohan and Jeffrey Goodman, of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky, and Cal Warriner, of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley. Adding insult to injury, both companies deny the link between paraquat and Parkinson’s disease.
“The American Journal of Epidemiology, JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Neurology, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences are just a few of the sources that have published research pointing to a link between paraquat and Parkinson’s disease,” The National Law Review reports. “The Unified Parkinson’s Advocacy Council submitted a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in which it noted, “Recent research links paraquat and several other herbicides to the development of Parkinson’s pathology and symptoms.” In the letter, the Unified Parkinson’s Advocacy Council urged the EPA to ban the use of the herbicide in the U.S., which, as of April 2021, the agency has not done.”
Two other issues surround the paraquat controversy. The first concerns findings that the defendants hid their knowledge of the product’s dangers and manipulated data to keep it on the market. The second concerns the fact that paraquat has been used as a suicide device. Regarding the first issue, here is what a former ICI scientist – who now has gone public with evidence against his old employer – said about the cover-up:
“I know it took a long time to get the message through,” Jon Heylings told Public Eye. “I tried my best in the early 1990s, but I’m trying again now to convince Syngenta that they were wrong with the emetic concentration. And that’s what’s keeping me going.”
Heylings is referring to the level of an added agent that induces vomiting if paraquat is ingested. He believes the company should increase the amount of the emetic 10-fold and is hiding behind false numbers. Regarding the second issue, here is what former ICI toxicologist Michael Rose reportedly wrote about the suicide problem:
“Paraquat poisoning is causing the Company considerable concern, particularly since the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA is currently questioning the safety of the product.”
Public Eye reported that Rose said paraquat registrations in the United States as well as Japan were in jeopardy at the time because of the number of suicides.
“Rose knew a ban in a major market like the US posed particular risks, because it might lead other countries to follow suit,” according to Public Eye. “If the registration in the USA and Japan were to be withdrawn, the consequences to the Company would be very serious and the remaining markets in the rest of the world would be threatened.”