Paraquat and Parkinson’s Disease: Understanding Your Rights

Doug Mann

Paraquat dichloride, commonly referred to as “paraquat,” is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States. Though it’s known to be highly toxic, it is used in many agricultural and commercial settings because it’s a fast-acting, non-selective weed and grass killer.

Paraquat and Parkinson’s Disease: Understanding Your Rights
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Table of Contents
  1. How Is Paraquat Regulated? 
  2. What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
  3. Who is At Risk Of Exposure?
  4. Recent Studies and Paraquat Regulation
  5. Current Paraquat Lawsuits
  6. Are You Eligible to File a Parkinson’s Disease Lawsuit? 

Paraquat is frequently applied to control weeds and plants on cotton, corn, and soybeans. Other agricultural uses include row crops, orchard crops, fruits, and vegetables. Non-agricultural uses include rights of way, pastures/fallow land, and commercial buildings/storage yards. It is used as a desiccant/harvest aid on cotton, potatoes, tomatoes, dry beans, soybeans, sunflower, canola, sugarcane, and pine trees to dry them out pre-harvest. 

Paraquat became an approved pesticide in the 1960s, and its use continues to rise. The U.S. Geological Survey, an agency of the Department of the Interior, reported in its National Water Quality Assessment Project that, in the ten-year period between 2006 and 2016, applications of this herbicide rose nearly 200%. This is so despite the extreme toxicity of the chemical. Each year there are dozens of reports of the death of people who accidentally or purposefully ingested a small amount of paraquat. 

According to a June 2019 article in Environmental Health, the U.S. lags behind the world’s three other largest agricultural producers and pesticide users in banning the herbicide. China, the European Union, and Brazil have already banned or are in the process of phasing out the use of paraquat. 

Although not yet totally definitive, recent scientific studies have led many scientists to suspect a connection between paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s Disease. 

How Is Paraquat Regulated? 

Paraquat is regulated by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) as a restricted use pesticide under the Federal Fungicide, Insecticide, and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”), 7 U.S.C. §§ 136-137. This means it may only be used by a certified pesticide applicator in commercial or agricultural settings. Non-certified persons working under the supervision of a certified applicator may not mix, load, apply the pesticide, or otherwise engage in any paraquat-related activities. There are no home garden or residential uses approved for paraquat. 

What Is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. Symptoms generally take years to develop and start gradually, sometimes with a barely noticeable tremor in just one hand. The disorder also commonly causes stiffness or slowing of movement, known as Bradykinesia. Speech may become soft or slurred. Parkinson’s symptoms worsen over time. 

The cause of PD is not well established, but it is suggested that many factors coalesce, including genetic susceptibility, aging, and possibly exposure to certain chemicals, Although there is no cure, treatment options vary and include medications and surgery. While Parkinson’s itself is not fatal, disease complications can be serious. People with PD need dopaminergic medication because they have low levels of, or are missing, dopamine in the brain, mainly due to impairment of neurons in the substantia nigra, a structure in the mid-brain. 

Who is At Risk Of Exposure?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are a number of ways in which humans can experience paraquat exposure, including: 

● Skin exposure through cuts and sores; 

● Direct swallowing or ingestion; 

● Inhalation, and 

● Inadvertent contamination of food or beverages. 

Paraquat exposure predominantly affects: 

● Farmers, farmworkers, landscapers, and agricultural workers; 

● Residents of rural areas near farmland sprayed with paraquat, and

● Anyone who works with or around professional-grade pesticides 

Those who directly apply paraquat to crops are at the greatest risk of harmful exposure and subsequent harm, but people who live in rural areas adjacent to heavy use of the herbicide may also suffer serious effects as a result of its toxicity. 

For a breakdown of Paraquat usage throughout Ohio counties, refer to the map below, or our more comprehensive article on the subject: Ohio Paraquat Usage Map: Which Counties Were Most Exposed?

Recent Studies and Paraquat Regulation

Below, we offer the latest developments in Paraquat regulation and peer reviewed studies looking at health impact.

National Institutes of Health 

In 2011, the National Institutes of Health (“NIH”), the nation’s medical research agency and part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced a research study that showed a link between the use of paraquat and Parkinson’s disease. The study showed that people who used paraquat developed Parkinson’s disease approximately 2.5 times more often than non-users. The study was a collaborative effort that also included researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Cancer Institute, EPA, and the Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center in Sunnyvale, California. 

The work is known as the Farming and Movement Evaluation, or FAME, study. It drew on a sweeping United States government project, the Agricultural Health Study, which tracked more than 80,000 farmers and their spouses, as well as other people who applied pesticides, in Iowa and North Carolina. NIH believes that this work may provide a critical and dramatic next step in furthering knowledge of environmental determinants of PD, and thereby take science closer to finding its cause(s).

Environmental Protection Agency 

FIFRA mandates a 15-year reevaluation of all registered pesticides through the Agency’s Pesticide Registration Review process. This is a four-step process wherein EPA reviews scientific data that has come to light and conducts risk assessments to determine whether there should be a change to the pesticide’s regulatory status. 

In October 2020, EPA took an important step in its regulatory review of paraquat in seeking public input on the third step of the review, a Proposed Interim Decision (“PID”). The PID proposes new mitigation measures to reduce potential ecological risks and protect public health based on the findings submitted during the public comment period. These mitigation measures would prohibit most aerial applications and require that certified applicators use respirators under certain conditions. 

The agency must decide whether to re-register paraquat by October 1, 2022, but the EPA has indicated it will likely reach a final decision in 2021.

National Toxicology Program 

In May 2017, the National Toxicology Program, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced that it planned to systematically review reports in the scientific literature on the association between exposure to paraquat.

The primary objective of this evaluation is to undertake a scoping review of existing human, animal, and in vitro studies and identify the literature relevant to paraquat exposure and its association with Parkinson’s disease. The scoping review will systematically collect and categorize the evidence to map the key Parkinson’s disease-related health effects and identify gaps in research.

Over the past decades, several experimental animal studies, epidemiological studies of farmworkers, and genetic studies have suggested an association between exposure to pesticides with an increased risk for PD development. However, these studies have potential biases and confounding factors that make it difficult for results interpretation. Therefore, it has not been possible to assume causality between paraquat exposure and PD based on these studies. 

Current Paraquat Lawsuits

The controversy surrounding paraquat may not yet be as well-known as that concerning Monsanto’s ROUNDUP herbicide, which claimants alleged caused non-Hodgins lymphoma. But lawsuits have begun to be filed by people who believe they have been negatively impacted by exposure, particularly by those who attribute their Parkinson’s diagnosis to the chemical agent.

An expert tip from Doug Mann

There are now more than twenty lawsuits alleging that exposure to paraquat is responsible for the plaintiffs’ confirmed diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease or their emerging symptoms of the condition. 

Several of the plaintiffs’ lawyers recently filed a petition before a federal Joint Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to ask that the cases be consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Grouping the lawsuits in a so-called Multidistrict Litigation reduces duplication and allows cases to proceed more expeditiously. A ruling is expected in May 2021. 

Are You Eligible to File a Parkinson’s Disease Lawsuit? 

If you are among those who have been exposed to the herbicide paraquat as a farmer, an agricultural laborer, or someone who lived near to an agricultural or commercial area where paraquat was routinely applied and were subsequently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit to recover financial compensation. 

If you’re thinking of joining a paraquat lawsuit, here’s what you need to know:

● You may be able to seek compensation for all of your damages, including medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and declines in your quality of life. 

● There are statutes of limitations that apply to file toxic exposure lawsuits, so it’s best not to delay if you have reason to believe that your Parkinson’s diagnosis is related to paraquat exposure.  

● You will need the help of an experienced products liability lawyer to prove that exposure to the herbicide is what caused you to develop Parkinson’s disease. 

● It costs you nothing out of pocket to get started with a claim. The consultation is free, and legal representation is offered on a no-win, no-fee basis. Get in touch today to see what we can do for you.

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