Low-Level Exposure to Paraquat Damages Cells in Ways That Might Lead to Parkinson’s Disease, Studies Report

By Eddie Perry

Industrial agriculture has made it possible to produce large quantities of food at a relatively low cost, however, over time, some industrial farming practices caused crops to be increasingly susceptible to weed competition, and insect parasites, resulting in a vicious cycle of dependency on pesticides and chemical fertilizers. These practices have led to environmental and human health issues, contributing to the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, soil degradation and loss of biodiversity, dangerous levels of pesticide exposure for farmworkers and residents of adjacent communities, leaving unhealthy levels of pesticide residue in food, and increasing prevalence of neurologic symptoms and changes in neurobehavioral performance, reflecting cognitive and psychomotor slowing.

Researchers Found That a Widely Used Herbicide Could Damage the Brain and May Even Lead to a Higher Risk of Parkinson’s Disease

Paraquat is the most successful nonselective herbicide in the U.S. due to its rapid herbicidal activity. The product – commonly used as a burndown product, to control grass cover crops or volunteer cereals, and providing control of perennial and annual broadleaf weeds – is acutely toxic, meaning that it can cause harmful or lethal effects that occur from a single exposure by any route of entry – ingestion, inhalation, or skin contact.

Products that contain paraquat dichloride as an active ingredient may be known to agricultural workers under many brand names, e.g., Gramoxone, Blanco, Devour, Firestorm, Helmquat, Quick-Quat, Parazone, and Bonedry. In the United States, paraquat use has increased more than 200% during the past ten years, despite the damning scientific evidence, and although it has been banned in numerous countries all over the world, including Switzerland and the EU nations.

On March 8, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the availability of required training for certified applicators who use any of the above-mentioned products. All paraquat products are Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs) and all applicators must be licensed in accordance with EPA regulations and state, territorial, and tribal laws. 

Paraquat Exposure Can Result in Devastating Health Consequences for Those Who Work With It Regularly

Farmers can get unsafely exposed to high levels of paraquat while they mix or apply the product, or during planting, weeding, thinning, irrigating, pruning, harvesting, and processing crops, or when they re-enter the fields prematurely after the fields have been sprayed. Families living nearby farming communities may also be at risk since pesticides can easily move off target with wind, and paraquat residues can transfer to clothing and rub off on furniture. There is strong scientific evidence indicating that individuals exposed to paraquat in their teens and young adult years had an increased Parkinson’s risk of 200 to 600.

Agricultural workers are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than people in the general population, and further investigations suggest that this risk is due to exposure to toxic herbicides like paraquat. Parkinson’s disease is an incurable neurodegenerative disease characterized by a lack of motor coordination and progressive cognitive decline. The condition affects the brain and the central nervous system and how they communicate with the rest of the body; it impacts neurons in the brain, causing them to break down and eventually even die. Neurons produce a chemical called dopamine, which is the body’s chemical messenger that carries signals between brain cells. As a neurotransmitter, dopamine helps control muscles and emotional responses, impacting both movement and vital brain functions such as mood, sleep, and memory.

Persons affected by Parkinson’s disease gradually lose their independence and must heavily rely on both the help of those around them, as well as any current treatment options available to them. There are no therapeutic treatment options currently available that can cure or even slow the progression of the disease. However, prompt and affordable access to medications is vital to patients’ ability to maintain their quality of life and independence, but unfortunately, the extremely high costs, both financial and emotional, faced by those affected by Parkinson’s disease, essentially for the rest of their lives, add distress, hardships, and burden to the patient and their family.

Manufacturers Tout the Chemical’s Effectiveness, but What Is the Price of Your Health?

Syngenta, the chemical giant that manufactures Gramoxone, whose main ingredient is paraquat, issued a statement claiming its product is not associated with Parkinson’s disease. However, the number of studies that have linked occupational exposure to paraquat to increased risk of this neurodegenerative disorder should raise some concerns for both manufacturers and regulators.

A Parkinson’s disease diagnosis can change your financial situation; it may mean you need to stop working or work less; it can also mean spending more money on medical and pharmacy drugs, transportation to medical appointments, and caregiving costs; but depending on your situation, you may be able to get financial compensation from the liable manufacturers. Many paraquat claims are now being filed on behalf of farmers and agricultural workers who were exposed to the toxic herbicide paraquat and later diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Claimants argue that, before the recent studies linking paraquat to Parkinson’s, they were completely unaware that the chemical poses a threat to their long-term health.

About the author:

Eddie Perry is a legal counsel at the Environmental Litigation Group, P.C., a law firm based in Birmingham, Alabama, that handles cases of occupational toxic exposure. Having experienced life-threatening illness in his extended family, Eddie learned that life is meant to be a journey of lessons and that time and love are priceless. Eddie invests the time necessary to get to know all clients, learn their stories, and help them through their difficult situations.

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