The Environmental Protection Agency must ban the toxic weedkiller paraquat – a step over than 60 other countries have taken because of its threats to human health. Paraquat has been linked to Parkinson’s disease, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, childhood leukemia and more.
The European Union's ban applies to all 27 member countries.While the EPA says paraquat is too toxic for use on U.S. golf courses, it still allows use of the herbicide on farms. This threatens the health of the people who apply it, other farmworkers and those who live or work near crop fields where it’s used. More than 10 million pounds of paraquat were sprayed in 2018 alone, twice as much as has been sprayed since 2014. Paraquat is primarily used to clear fields before farmers plant corn, soybeans, cotton, almonds, peanuts, wine grapes and other crops. While much of the paraquat applied winds up in the soil for years, the chemical can also drift through the air or linger in dust. This pesticide drift creates health concerns. In California – the only state where data is readily available on where paraquat is used and how much – recent studies show workers and residents in areas with the highest use of the chemical face greater risk of Parkinson’s disease. Syngenta makes paraquat in China and the United Kingdom. The Swiss-based company, which was acquired by a Chinese state-owned chemical conglomerate, has long understood the chemical’s health risks. But it spent decades hiding this knowledge from the public and the EPA. Ironically, Chinese, U.K. and Swiss farmers are prohibited by their respective governments from using paraquat due to potential health risks from exposure. But the weedkiller isn’t prohibited in the U.S. Ingesting even tiny amounts of paraquat can be lethal. Reports from America’s Poison Centers show hundreds of accidental and intentional poisonings linked to paraquat ingestion in recent years, with at least one death a year.
Parkinson’s and paraquatChronic exposure to paraquat increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by reducing the number of neurons that produce dopamine in certain parts of the brain. Researchers have used paraquat exposure in animals to study Parkinson’s disease. A study using data from the National Institutes of Health found people who sprayed paraquat were more than twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as those who applied other pesticides. And a meta-analysis of 13 studies found a 64 percent increase in the likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease from paraquat exposure. Most recently, findings from researchers at UCLA show paraquat sprayed within 500 meters, or about 1,640 feet, of where people lived and worked could more than double a person’s odds of developing Parkinson’s. Other health problems linked to paraquat include thyroid disease and cancer, impaired kidney function, childhood leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
EPA ignores the evidenceThe EPA has dismissed research linking paraquat to Parkinson’s disease, including in its latest analysis of the chemical, released earlier this month. This includes new research submitted by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. The EPA has also failed to consider evidence published by the nonprofit investigative news site The New Lede, which revealed that paraquat’s manufacturer actively sought to mislead regulators at the EPA about a link between paraquat and Parkinson’s. The EPA is also ignoring how people working on farms or living nearby can be exposed to paraquat – ignoring direct drift of paraquat through the air and underestimating how much can be resuspended in dust. The agency assumes that people spraying paraquat will follow instructions designed to minimize drift and harm. But studies show “off label” use of pesticides is common, with virtually no enforcement.
States can step upTo fully protect farmworkers and others, the EPA must follow the science and ban the use of paraquat. But states shouldn’t wait for the agency to act. Federal pesticide law sets a floor, not a ceiling. To protect their citizens and public health, state and local governments have the power to enact measures such as a ban on paraquat.