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The Herbicide Paraquat Linked to Parkinson’s Disease

Many countries worldwide have banned the use of paraquat, an extremely toxic herbicide used to kill weeds. Unfortunately, the United States is not one of them. One study by the National Water-Quality Assessment Project reported that paraquat use in the United States actually doubled between 2006 and 2016. 

Increased paraquat usage translates to increased exposure and related harms, including Parkinson’s disease. Many studies and published research in the United States and elsewhere have confirmed the link between paraquat and Parkinson’s. 

In fact, the Unified Parkinson’s Advocacy Council urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban the use of paraquat in the United States. So far, it has not done so. 

What is Paraquat?

Paraquat is a popular weed killer that quickly kills weeds on contact. It is used for commercial applications. Paraquat is manufactured by Syngenta, Growmark, Chevron USA Inc., and others and is sold under various brand names, including:

  • Blanco
  • Devour
  • Firestorm
  • Gramaxone SL 2 
  • Helmquat
  • Ortho-Paraquat
  • Para-SHOT
  • Parazone
  • Quick-Quat

Paraquat is not the active ingredient found in Roundup, which has been the subject of many lawsuits. Roundup has different toxins and is not associated with Parkinson’s disease.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Nearly 1 million people in the United States suffer from Parkinson’s. The Parkinson’s Foundation describes the disease as a neurodegenerative disorder in which nerve cells in the brain do not produce enough of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Reduced dopamine is what causes the movement symptoms associated with Parkinson’s, including:

  • Bradykinesia (slowness in voluntary movement and reflexes)
  • Impaired balance or postural instability
  • Limb rigidity or stiffness (resistance to passive movement)
  • Resting tremors (shaking movement when the muscles are relaxed)
  • Slowed movements
  • Gait and walking problems
  • Loss of coordination

Although it is primarily a movement disorder, Parkinson’s can also cause:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of smell
  • Peripheral pain throughout the body
  • Speech problems
  • Sleep disorders

Parkinson’s is progressive, meaning the disease gets worse over time. It is incurable, but symptoms are treatable. Research shows that early intervention may slow disease progression, but the results on that are not conclusive. Diet, exercise, and medications are currently used to treat symptoms. 

How Does Paraquat Cause Parkinson’s Disease?

Paraquat causes oxidative stress, meaning that altered cell chemistry leads to damage and death of the dopamine neuron cells in a specific small region of the brain. These neurons may be more vulnerable to oxidative stress than other neurons and, therefore, more affected by paraquat – particularly in people with genetic susceptibility. 

Not everyone exposed to paraquat develops Parkinson’s disease, nor does everyone with genetic susceptibility. Only a small number of Parkinson’s disease cases are genetic or inherited. As with many diseases, both environmental exposures and genetics can cause the disease. However, many people have developed Parkinson’s without a known genetic susceptibility. 

Who is at Risk for Paraquat-Related Parkinson’s Disease?

Those at the most significant risk are people who most frequently use or are exposed to paraquat, such as:

  • Anyone who works with or around professional-grade pesticides 
  • Farmers, farmworkers, landscapers, and agricultural workers
  • Residents of rural areas near farmland sprayed with paraquat

Statistics show that nearly 11 million pounds of paraquat are sprayed on U.S. crops each year. Apples, grapes, wheat, almonds, pears, and strawberries are commonly sprayed with paraquat. Consuming these products and other produce grown with pesticides can expose humans to paraquat by ingestion. 

Primary exposure occurs as a direct result of applying or ingesting the pesticide. Secondary exposure occurs when sprayed pesticides move through the air or groundwater and contaminate a well, soil, or the air in and around a home. Most people would have no idea they are being exposed to it unless they become sick. 

How Does Paraquat Poisoning Occur?

Paraquat poisoning can occur if someone:

  • Comes into contact with sprayed plants
  • Gets paraquat on their skin
  • Inhales or ingests paraquat
  • Mixes, loads, or applies paraquat

Immediate side effects of paraquat poisoning can include:

  • Breathing difficulties or failure, potentially resulting in death
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Dehydration
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Gastrointestinal distress (nausea, diarrhea, bloody stool, vomiting)
  • Muscle fatigue or weakness
  • Pain and swelling of the mouth and throat
  • Seizures

Because of its high toxicity, paraquat purchased in the United States has several safeguards to prevent people from accidentally consuming it, including: 

  • Blue dye to distinguish it from beverages
  • Chemical agent that induces vomiting if drank
  • Strong odor for caution

When purchased from outside the United States, though, paraquat may not have these additional safeguards, so accidental consumption is a risk. Nevertheless, these precautions do not help those exposed to paraquat on the job or who live (or lived) near a sprayed area.

Does Paraquat Cause Other Health Risks?

Paraquat can cause death as it is highly toxic to humans. Even a small accidental sip can be fatal, and there is no antidote. Many deaths occur from accidental ingestion, often when the concentrate is transferred to a beverage container. Paraquat and another herbicide, diquat, are leading causes of herbicide-related deaths in the United States.

In addition to Parkinson’s disease, paraquat exposure can potentially lead to:

  • Atypical Parkinson’s
  • Multiple system atrophy
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy
  • Asthma
  • Kidney disease
  • Lung disease

Why Is Paraquat Not Banned in the United States?

The European Union, China, and over 40 other countries have banned the use of paraquat, but the United States has not. The EPA claims to be currently reviewing and reassessing paraquat. Still, politics most likely play a role despite paraquat use being a serious human health issue.

What if I Have Been Exposed to Paraquat and Developed Parkinson’s Disease?

If you or a loved one were exposed to Paraquat, the first step is to seek medical care. If you are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, following all of the doctor’s orders is essential.

Once you have been diagnosed and are under a doctor’s care, you may consider legal action, including joining a class-action lawsuit with other paraquat victims. Filing a lawsuit can:

  • Provide compensation to cover medical bills and other expenses related to your illness.
  • Hold the companies that exposed you to paraquat responsible.
  • Spread awareness of the dangers associated with paraquat, which helps others at risk.

If you decide to proceed with a lawsuit, you will need to find a lawyer experienced in paraquat claims. The lawyer’s number one job will be to prove that exposure to paraquat caused your disease. This will be a time-consuming, exhaustive process best left to a lawyer who understands the process and has the resources to make that connection happen. 

Paraquat exposure may be easier to prove in some cases than in others. For example, if you worked on an industrial farm in the past, you may already know the pesticides to which you were exposed. But if you lived near a commercial farm, you may be unaware of what toxic chemicals you were exposed to. This is where a paraquat law firm with a proven track record can help. 

Note that the sooner you contact a lawyer, the better. There are deadlines for toxic exposure lawsuits. 

A lawyer will first work to successfully settle your case against the product manufacturer or other liable party. Settling means that they will work to agree on financial compensation that is fair to you. If you and the liable party cannot agree on compensation, your lawyer can take the case to court. 

Philadelphia Products Liability Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC Can Help You if You Have Been Exposed to Paraquat

If you or a loved one were exposed to paraquat or diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, the Philadelphia products liability lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC can help. Schedule a free consultation today by calling 215-569-8488 or filling out our online form. With offices in Philadelphia, Abington, and Media, Pennsylvania; and Wilmington, Delaware, we serve clients throughout the surrounding areas.