Paraquat Lawsuit: All you need to know

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Researcher: Ariana Arce​

Researcher: Ariana Arce​

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Journalist: Aaron Vivanco

Journalist: Aaron Vivanco

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Editor: Daniela Polo

Editor: Daniela Polo

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Paraquat Lawsuit: All you need to know

What is Paraquat?

Paraquat dichloride is a popular chemical used in commercial farming practices since the 1960s. The reason why it doesn’t come out of fashion in the agricultural business is that, as a herbicide, it works wonders. But just as it is extremely effective in destroying cellular tissue in unwanted plants and weeds, it has severe side effects and consequences in human cells.

How Does it Work?

In its purest form, paraquat is a chloride salt that looks like a white odorless powder. Along the manufacturing process, other chemicals are added, acquiring liquid form. It is also dyed blue and odorized with a stinging smell to prevent people from ingesting it. Once manufactured, paraquat is labeled and commercialized under many different names and brands. 

Paraquat and its byproducts work by inhibiting the photosynthetic process in plants, obstructing their means to feed themselves. This produces that plant membranes and tissues are disintegrated within one or two hours, which is faster than other herbicides. This is why paraquat is a favorite among agricultural environments. 

Precisely, its high speed and effectiveness killing weeds are what makes paraquat highly toxic and dangerous for humans. One small teaspoon of this chemical has been proven to be lethal. Regarding indirect contact, numerous scientific studies link paraquat and Parkinson’s disease after long-term exposure.


Paraquat banned in 58 countries

The toxic herbicide has been banned in 58 countries due to its well-documented links to Parkinson’s disease, cancer and reproductive health. Yet in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency last year reapproved paraquat for another 15 years, sanctioning the annual use of more than 10 million pounds on crops like citrus, almonds, artichokes, garlic, pears, strawberries and grapes.

As mentioned before, paraquat isn’t harmless to human life, nor any other form of life. Its high toxicity makes it a dangerous product to handle, ingest and/or breathe. This is why for several years now, many countries have banned it, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States has established restrictions on its use. 

There are different degrees of paraquat poisoning depending on how direct the exposure was, and for how long. It is also relevant to know how long it took the affected person to seek help since this often makes a difference in the ability of the medical team to remove the substance from the body.


What to Know About Paraquat Side Effects?

Direct contact with paraquat dichloride is lethal most of the time, and when it is not, it leaves those affected with lifelong consequences. Indirect contact and prolonged exposure to this herbicide over time have also been linked to incurable health conditions. Read more to discover what are the most frequent paraquat side effects.

Direct Side Effects: Is Paraquat Poisonous? 

Yes, paraquat is poisonous. If you swallow, ingest or get into contact with paraquat, side effects will be faster and more harmful than other types of exposure. The first symptoms will include: pain and swelling of the mouth and throat, followed by gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you know or suspect you or a loved one may have been in direct contact with paraquat, you need to act immediately by calling 911. The next step is to remove any item that could have been contaminated with paraquat. It is also important to wash hands thoroughly and any part of the body touched by the chemical. 

What are the most frequent complications of paraquat poisoning?

  • Lung scarring.
  • Liver disease.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Heart disease. 
  • Esophageal scarring and narrowing.

Indirect Side Effects: Does Paraquat Cause Parkinson’s?

Exposure to paraquat products over time could be responsible for developing an incurable degenerative illness such as Parkinson’s. Strong links have been found between paraquat and Parkinson’s Disease, especially among agricultural workers, farmers, and people who lived or worked for a long time near an area sprayed with paraquat and/or with paraquat products.
The reasons are still not clear, but in a 2011 study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives scientific journal, exposure to paraquat was found to increase

oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction, which in turn led to a greater chance to develop Parkinson’s disease among a surveyed group.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive and incurable illness in which brain regions become damaged after neuron cell loss. It is an impairing condition that develops over the years, affecting primarily muscle movement and memory. Although this illness has no cure, there are supportive treatments aimed to improve the quality of life of those affected.


Brand owners concealed Paraquat’s risks

Since the 1990s, manufacturers have known about its toxicity and were aware of options to change the components to make it safer. However, the company did not make any alterations for fear of affecting its bottom line. Brand owners concealed Paraquat’s risks and hid evidence of its dangers from government safety agencies.

Ironically, China, which produces the herbicide, removed it from the markets, prohibiting its use and sales. However, exportation persists. Shockingly, in the United States, Paraquat use is not only legal but on the rise. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not banned it despite its banning in the EU and some South American countries.


Precedents

December  2022, EPA will prepare new analyses of paraquat’s risks and cost-benefit balancing. The agency will accept public comment on these new analyses, creating a new opportunity to push for needed protections.

In 2017, the Unified Parkinson’s Advocacy Council sent a letter to the EPA, signed by all council members. The letter listed facts connecting Paraquat to Parkinson’s disease symptoms and concluded by urging the EPA to deny Paraquat’s reregistration. The first lawsuits filed against Paraquat manufacturers related to Parkinson’s disease occurred in October 2017, in Illinois. Since then, agriculture workers across the country started lawsuits seeking to hold the herbicide manufacturers accountable.

Consequently, in 2016, the EPA announced it would re-evaluate the potential link between Paraquat to Parkinson’s disease.

In 2011, a study of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, in association with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, concluded that Parkinson’s disease was strongly associated with Paraquat.

In 2009, the American Journal of Epidemiology published that any Paraquat exposure within 1,600 feet increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s by 75 percent. Furthermore, people who applied this pesticide suffered twice the risk of Parkinson’s disease than the general population. Despite Paraquat not being registered for residential use, people living near farms may risk exposure.

In 1997, the EPA announced that Paraquat exposure during the mixing, loading, application, and post-application process, is linked to Parkinson’s diseases.


Scientific Research

In the 1980s, a Southern California experiment revealed that heroin contains a contaminant called N-methyl-4-phenyl-1, 2, 3, 6-tetrahydropyridine or MPTP, which causes symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease. The experiment proved that the heroin contaminant destroyed dopamine neurons and Parkinson’s patients suffer damage in the same neurons. In conclusión, MPTP and Paraquat share similar chemical structures.


Could I File a Lawsuit if I Experienced Paraquat Side-Effects?

Probably yes. Many people whose health was negatively affected by paraquat succeeded to file a lawsuit against manufacturers. Nowadays, there are many lawsuits filed, either individually or multiple. The most important action now is a big multi-district litigation (MDL) against one of the brands that commercialize a paraquat product. Although it is in an early phase, the number of plaintiffs is growing and counting. 

This type of lawsuit (MDL) implies that multiple claims are presented at the same time, but each of them is evaluated separately. Therefore, compensation is also individualized according to the specific circumstances of each plaintiff: how long they have been exposed to the herbicide, and how paraquat exposure affected them, just to name a few variables.
If you suffered from direct or indirect paraquat side effects such as those mentioned above, you could have a viable claim to present. Contact us so an experienced mass-tort attorney can evaluate your case and determine if you are a potential plaintiff.

Sources:
https://www.epa.gov/ingredients-used-pesticide-products/paraquat-dichloride
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3114841/
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/parkinsons-disease/
https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1002839

https://www.epa.gov/pesticides/epa-finalizes-new-stronger-safety-measures-pesticide-paraquat