The Paraquat lawsuit claims that the use of the herbicide Paraquat can cause Parkinson's Disease.
What Do We Know About the Paraquat Lawsuits
In the 1980s, an experiment in Southern California revealed that MPTP, a heroin contaminant, caused users to suffer symptoms like those associated with Parkinson’s disease. The experiment showed that the heroin contaminant destroyed dopamine neurons, which are the same neurons that suffer damage in Parkinson’s disease patients. MPTP and paraquat share similar chemical structures.
In 1997, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that exposure to paraquat during the mixing, loading, and application of the herbicide and during the post-application process represented the primary route of exposure to the chemical compound. The agency further suggested that despite the herbicide not being registered for residential use, such exposure is possible for individuals who live near farms where the herbicide is used.
Over the past 20 years, the scientific community has stepped up its examination of the effects of paraquat exposure on humans, and specifically the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
In 2009, research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology revealed that any exposure to paraquat within 1,600 feet of a home resulted in a heightened Parkinson’s disease risk of 75 percent.
In 2011, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, in association with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, published results from a robust study of Parkinson’s disease cases and pesticides. Within this study, paraquat emerged as a significant concern.
Parkinson’s disease was connected to groups of pesticides that block mitochondrial complex and those that cause oxidative stress. The way paraquat works is to produce intracellular molecules that damage cells by causing oxidative stress. The study concluded that “Parkinson’s disease was strongly associated with” paraquat. The authors further underscored that the potential for exposure to paraquat reaches beyond the occupational/agricultural environment and that many people may be exposed to the pesticide without even being aware of its presence in their environments.
In 2014, the Annual Review of Pharmacology and Toxicology published findings related to Environmental Toxins and Parkinson's Disease. The review reported five case-control studies that revealed a greater risk of Parkinson’s disease in individuals who had experienced exposure to paraquat. Pesticide applicators who had applied paraquat suffered twice the risk of Parkinson’s disease than the general population.
The review also highlighted a marked increased risk of Parkinson’s disease in people who had been exposed to both paraquat and a certain type of fungicide called fungicide maneb. Finally, study participants who lacked an active copy of a specific gene (missing in 20 percent of Caucasians and 40 percent of Asians) suffered a heightened risk of paraquat toxicity.
In 2016, the EPA announced it would be re-evaluating paraquat, including the potential link to Parkinson's disease.
On July 24, 2017, the Unified Parkinson’s Advocacy Council sent a letter to the EPA, in advance of the agency’s paraquat registration review. The letter, signed by all members of the council, listed a laundry list of facts that connect paraquat with the development of Parkinson’s disease symptoms and pathology and concluded by urging the EPA to deny paraquat’s reregistration.
The letter further emphasized the economic costs to a person suffering from Parkinson’s disease, such as:
- $26,400 per year on individual care for a person with Parkinson’s disease.
- $19.8 to $26.4 billion annual economic burden in the U.S.
- Costs associated with reliance on programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security Disability Insurance.
On October 6, 2017, a lawsuit was filed against Syngenta and Growmark, the manufacturers of paraquat. The complaint was filed on behalf of farmers and agricultural workers who had developed Parkinson’s disease after being exposed to paraquat. Since the filing of the original claim, Chevron Chemical has been added as a defendant in the lawsuit.
In 2018, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program (NTP) announced its protocol for a review of paraquat dichloride exposure and Parkinson’s disease. Acknowledging that hundreds of studies had investigated the link between paraquat exposure and Parkinson's Disease, the review will attempt to map evidence that associates the herbicide with Parkinson’s disease.
Attorneys Mike Papantonio Discusses the Paraquat Lawsuits
What Do We Know About Paraquat
The herbicide paraquat has been commercially available since 1962, and is one of the most widely used herbicides around the world. It's utilized to control weeds and as a post-harvest drying agent.
As a restricted-use herbicide, paraquat can be mixed, loaded, and/or applied only by individuals who have completed an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved training program. The herbicide is associated with a high potential for misuse, as well as poisonings.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) follows paraquat because the agency considers it to be more toxic than other herbicides. The chemical’s toxicity manifests through ingestion, skin-absorption, and inhalation. Besides causing burns, the herbicide is known as a possible cause of birth defects and cancer, as well as of Parkinson’s Disease.
According to a June 2019 article in Environmental Health, Paraquat is one of only two herbicides still being used in the U.S. that have already been banned or are in the process of being phased out in China, EU, and Brazil.
How is Paraquat Utilized
Paraquat is applied directly to plants as a spray that kills the leaves with direct contact. The compound is inactivated when it makes contact with soil.
According to the Unified Parkinson’s Advisory Council, paraquat is also used as an herbicide for weeds that have developed a resistance to Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides.
With $640 million in global sales reported in 2011, use of paraquat has recently been experiencing a sales increase as a result of the rise in high-profile Roundup lawsuits, as well as an increase in the number of glyphosate-resistant weeds.
What Do We Know About Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson's disease is a disabling neurodegenerative disorder with a human onset in mid to later years in life. Effects to the motor system include tremors in the arms and legs, impaired coordination and balance, slow movements, and rigidity of the body and limbs. Such effects are attributed to the progressive degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the brain.
In the realm of neurodegenerative diseases, Parkinson’s disease is the second most common. The disease is chronic and progressive, with only partial relief of symptoms from today’s medical therapies. As the world is experiencing an increasingly aging population, we have seen a greater prevalence of Parkinson’s disease, particularly in relatively newer developed countries, like India and China.
Genetic factors play a causal role in a small percentage of Parkinson’s disease cases, but the main cause of Parkinson’s disease has remained a mystery for years. In relatively recent years, an increasing number of scientific studies have connected Parkinson’s disease to environmental exposures, such as pesticides.