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Paraquat: The Basics, the Symptoms and the Legislation Against It

Mass Tort News

Farmer spraying plants

The subject of six lawsuits filed in three states, paraquat is widely used in the agricultural industry and, sadly, often causes illnesses to those least able to care for themselves: workers.

Workers on farms and ranches across the country are spraying the deadly weedkiller on their fields to prepare for fresh crops. The problem is, paraquat is killing more than just weeds.

“Paraquat is highly toxic,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “One small sip can be fatal and there is no antidote. Illegally transferring paraquat to beverage containers and later mistaking it for a drink has resulted in the accidental ingestion of the pesticide and causes approximately 1-2 deaths per year. New packaging requirements and other risk mitigation measures required by EPA in 2016 are expected to minimize the illegal transfer of paraquat to beverage containers. Incidents also suggest that paraquat is corrosive to the skin and eyes.”

The EPA in 2019 issued “Paraquat Dichloride: Draft Human Health Risk Assessment in Support of Registration Review,” a 103-page document that details the dangers that could occur based on the current registered uses of the substance. It was compiled by the Pesticide Re-evaluation Division of the Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) and the OPP’s Health Effects Division.

“The draft risk assessment identifies potential risks to workers who apply paraquat or enter treated fields after application,” according to the EPA. “There are also potential risks from spray drift to bystanders at the edge of the field. EPA reviewed a robust set of literature on paraquat exposure which included over 70 articles that investigated a range of health outcomes, including Parkinson’s Disease, lung function and respiratory effects, and cancer.”

The agency stopped short of linking paraquat products to those health outcomes. But the lawsuits will prove otherwise. Co-counsel Cal Warriner, of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, is among the team of leading national torts attorneys seeking justice for those irreparably harmed.

“Our clients need and deserve a strong voice to underscore the injustice they’ve been dealt,
 Warriner said in a blog. “To be stricken with such a horrible disease from an innocent workplace exposure is very sad. We are ready to fight for them.”

The Basics of Paraquat

  • Paraquat is toxic.
  • In the United States, paraquat primarily comes in liquid form, and its use is restricted to those who are commercially licensed to apply it.
  • Worldwide, paraquat is the most commonly used weedkiller despite bans in several other countries.

The way workers become ill is through skin exposure, inhalation and / or ingestion.

“Because paraquat is highly poisonous, the form that is marketed in the United States has a blue dye to keep it from being confused with beverages such as coffee, a sharp odor to serve as a warning, and an added agent to cause vomiting if someone drinks it,” according to a page on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site. “Paraquat from outside the United States may not have these safeguards added.”

The Symptoms of Paraquat

An estimated 70-plus percent of poisonings from skin exposure, inhalation and / or ingestion of the substance result in death. It is a rapid process, with symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea and nausea developing quickly.

“The gastrointestinal symptoms are often severe,” Healthline reports. “They can lead to both dehydration and low blood pressure. One may also experience nosebleeds and difficulty breathing. Even ingesting small to medium amounts of paraquat can lead to fatal poisoning. Within several weeks to several days after ingesting a small amount, the person may experience lung scarring and the failure of multiple organs. This includes heart failure, respiratory failure, kidney failure, and liver failure.”

It is obvious paraquat should be banned in the United States. The Protect Against Paraquat Act has been introduced by Democratic New York Rep. Nydia Velazquez. The legislation would end all registration practices for the substance. In the Senate, Democratic New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall brought forward the Protect Children, Farmers, and Farmworkers from Nerve Agent Pesticides Act of 2019. Both are being lauded by The Michael J. Fox Foundation.

“The proposed legislation is meant to prevent the use of toxic pesticides said to harm U.S. children, farm workers, and consumers,” according to an article in Parkinson’s News Today titled “MJFF Urges Support for Bill Aiming to Ban Herbicide Paraquat in US.” “One insecticide the measure seeks to ban, organophosphate, has been shown to harm the developing brain of children. Another, known as neonicotinoid, is linked to developmental defects and other problems in unborn children, and is tied to a global collapse of pollinating insects like bees. In a major development for the Parkinson’s community in particular, the measure would also prohibit the use of paraquat, estimated to raise the risk of Parkinson’s by 320%. This herbicide has been banned in 32 countries, including the European Union and in China, the country where its primary manufacturer is based.”

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