EPA Asks Court for Permission to Reconsider Paraquat Decision in Response to Parkinson’s Disease Concerns

The request comes in the face of a lawsuit challenging the interim registration of Paraquat, claiming the EPA failed to properly evaluate the Parkinson's disease risks associated with the weedkiller

In response to a recently-filed lawsuit over the controversial U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) interim registration of the herbicide Paraquat, which challenges the Agency’s assessment of the Parkinson’s disease risk from Paraquat, federal regulators have asked the Court to grant a voluntary remand, so that the EPA can reconsider the decision, instead of defending against the lawsuit.

The EPA granted interim registration for Paraquat approval in August 2021, so that it could move forward with some aspects of the registrration and implement risk mitigation measures, while acknowledging that the Agency had other work to do to complete the full assessment of the controversial herbicide. However, the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation filed a Petition challenging the decision, indicating that the decision was unsupported by substantial evidence about the unreasonable risks associated with the weedkiller.

Paraquat Parkinson’s Risks Ignored

Paraquat has been widely used on farms throughout the United States since the mid-1960s, to control weeds and long grass. Since the herbicide is highly toxic, it has been heavily restricted in the United States, and applicators are required to go through special training before handling, mixing or spraying Paraquat, since ingesting even a small amount can cause immediate death.

In recent years, there has also been a growing body of research establishing that Paraquat causes Parkinson’s disease among farmers and other individuals, even when all of the manufacturers recommended safety precautions are followed. As a result, thousands of Paraquat lawsuits are being pursued against the manufacturers by individuals diagnosed with Parkinsons’s and several watchdogs are pushing for a complete ban of the herbicide.

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Following the controversial EPA interim decision, a brief was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on May 25, 2022, which focused on human health-related concerns and questions about the EPA’s risk-benefit balancing discussion. In particular, the petition challenged the assessment of the Parkinson’s risk, analysis of exposure to Paraquat that is vaporized during application and whether the risks outweigh benefits provided by the product.

Rather than defending against the claims, the EPA filed a petition for a voluntary remand (PDF) on September 23, asking for the opportunity to re-review it’s prior decision.

“On remand, EPA will reconsider various aspects of its discretionary Interim Decision as challenged by the Foundation. For example, EPA wishes to reconsider the Interim Decision’s volatilization analysis, risk-benefit balancing, and assessment of costs,” the petition states. “Granting this motion will conserve the Court’s and the parties’ resources, as it will allow EPA to address the above-described issues without the need for further briefing, oral argument, or a Court decision.”

The EPA says it hopes a motion for remand, if granted, would negate the need for a deadline for administrative action. The EPA notes it was not under any obligation to publish the interim decision in the first place, and that deadlines would be improper and “unnecessarily entangle the Court in the Agency’s administrative processes.”

October 2022 Paraquat Litigation Update

While the EPA is re-evaluating the regulatory decision, thousands of Paraquat Parkinson’s disease lawsuits continue to move forward in the federal court system, where the cases has been centralized before U.S. District Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel in the Southern District of Illinois, for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings as part of an MDL or multidistrict litigation.

To help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be presented throughout the Paraquat litigation, the Court previously set an aggressive schedule that anticipated the first Parkinson’s bellwether trial dates going before a jury in late 2022. However, as a growing number of claims continue to be filed, the start of that first jury trial has been pushed back to mid-2023.

Judge Rosenstengel previously had the parties complete case-specific discovery in a group of 16 Paraquat bellwether cases selected earlier this year, which were designed to be representative of issues and injuries that will be repeated throughout the litigation.

While the outcome of the bellwether trials will not have any binding impact on other plaintiffs, they will be closely watched by all parties involved, and are expected to greatly influence any Paraquat settlement offers the manufacturers may make to avoid hundreds of individual cases later being remanded back for separate trial dates in U.S. District Courts nationwide.

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