Recent evidence indicates that Paraquat, the active ingredient in several widely used pesticides, may cause serious harm to human brains and increase the chance of developing Parkinson’s disease.
Paraquat dichloride, also known simply as Paraquat, is the active chemical compound in several powerful pesticides used to control weeds and other undesirable plants in agricultural settings. Due to its high level of toxicity in humans, it has been banned in a number of countries, including China, Brazil, and all of the EU. However, it is still available in the U.S. as a Restricted Use Pesticide (RUP), a class of pesticides that is not available to the general public.
Paraquat may only be used by a certified pesticide applicator or under the direct supervision of one. Employers have a duty to disclose toxic and hazardous substances in their workplaces to their employees and others who might be exposed to the danger they pose.
Paraquat is a particularly high-risk substance because there is no known antidote, and ingesting even a small amount can be fatal. Inhaling aerosolized Paraquat can cause internal organ damage, including to the trachea, esophagus, stomach, lungs, liver, kidneys, and intestines.
It is found in a variety of pesticide products but is commonly sold under the brand names Gramoxone and Parazone. The leading manufacturers of Paraquat in the U.S. are Syngenta and Chevron U.S.A., Inc.
Paraquat and Parkinson’s
In recent years, research in respected scientific and medical journals, including the American Journal of Epidemiology and the Journal of the American Medical Association, has revealed a potential link between Paraquat exposure and developing Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive central nervous system disorder with no known cure. It is associated with symptoms including:
- Slowed movement (called bradykinesia)
- Loss of motor control, posture, or balance
- Changes in speech
The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can take several years to manifest.
Much is still unknown about how and why Parkinson’s disease develops in an otherwise healthy person, but current research points to the death of dopamine-producing brain cells called neurons. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger in the brain, that serves many vital functions. Paraquat has been studied as a cause of oxidative stress in the brain that can kill neurons that produce dopamine.
A 2019 review of existing studies found that individuals exposed to Paraquat had a 25% greater chance of developing Parkinson’s disease. Owing to the growing awareness of the risks Paraquat presents in pesticide applications, the Unified Parkinson’s Advocacy Council has asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban its use outright; the EPA’s determination is pending.
Despite awareness of Paraquat’s role in causing oxidative stress in the brain and its neurotoxic (brain cell killing) effect when inhaled since the 1960s, as well as more recent revelations of its potential link to Parkinson’s disease, manufacturers of this compound and the products it is used in have failed to provide adequate warnings of its neurological risks.
Beginning in 2017, the first lawsuits began being filed against Paraquat manufacturers by plaintiffs alleging they either developed Parkinson’s disease as a result of exposure to the pesticide or are now at an increased risk of developing it. There are currently dozens of lawsuits working their way through federal courts in the Southern District of Illinois. Additionally, a class of agricultural workers — as well as individuals who did not work directly with Paraquat but who lived on or near farms where it was applied and suffered secondary exposure — filed suit in Florida.
Syngenta and Chevron are independently facing more than 150 lawsuits nationwide alleging that Paraquat caused or increased the likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease.
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If you have reason to suspect that you or a loved one has suffered from Paraquat exposure or Paraquat poisoning, you may be able to file a defective product liability or other claim.