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Herbicide Drift From Paraquat Caused Parkinson’s Disease, Lawsuit Claims

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A Minnesota man filed a product liability lawsuit on Monday against Syngenta and Chevron, claiming Paraquat herbicide drift caused him to be exposed to droplets of the weed killer carried in the wind from nearby fields and clinging to recently sprayed plants while he was an agricultural worker, resulting in the development of Parkinson’s disease years later.

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Joseph Nelson in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, joining a growing number of Parkinson’s disease lawsuits now being pursued against manufacturers of the controversial herbicide, which has been banned in a number of countries, but remains widely used in the United States.

Paraquat is a grass and weed killer that is highly toxic, and known to be lethal if only a small amount is ingested. As a result, the herbicide is restricted in the United States, requiring individuals to go through a training program before purchasing, handling or spraying the product. However, dozens of lawsuits filed in recent months allege farmers and other agricultural workers are developing Parkinson’s due to herbicide drift associated with the normal and expected use of the weed killer.

Nelson indicates he worked in the agricultural industry from 2005 through 2012, during which time he was regularly exposed to Paraquat when it was mixed, loaded, applied or when equipment covered in the herbicide was cleaned. He also indicates droplets regularly fell onto his skin from spray drift, as wind blew Paraquat from the target spraying areas to other locations. In addition, those droplets clung to recently sprayed plants, which was another cause of his exposure.

In 2019, Nelson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which he indicates was a direct result of the herbicide drift from Paraquat and other contact with the chemical.

Although Nelson was unaware of the link between Paraquat and Parkinson’s until recently, the lawsuit indicates the manufacturers knew or should have known about the risk for years, but failed to warn agricultural workers.

“Epidemiological studies have found that exposure to Paraquat significantly increases the risk of contracting Parkinson’s disease. A number of studies have found that the risk of Parkinson’s disease is more than double in populations with occupational exposure to Paraquat compared to populations without such exposure,” the lawsuit states. “These convergent lines of evidence demonstrate that Paraquat exposure generally can cause Parkinson’s disease.”

Parkinson’s disease affects more than 500,000 Americans, with approximately 50,000 new cases each year. The disease causes the loss of motor functions, causing imbalance and shaking, which gets progressively worse over time.

While genetics are often believed to be a major cause of Parkinson’s disease, growing research indicates that genes are only believed to be associated with about one-in-ten cases. Exposure to herbicides and pesticides are increasingly considered a leading risk, especially when combined with other factors that place individuals at risk of the development of Parkinson’s.

The case joins a growing number of similar Paraquat lawsuits which have been filed throughout the federal court system in recent weeks by individuals exposed from direct handling of the herbicide, working in the same fields where it was sprayed or living near farmland where Paraquat was regularly applied. Each of the claims raise similar allegations, indicating plaintiffs may have avoided a diagnosis if information about the health risks had been disclosed.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in the claims, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is scheduled to hold a hearing on May 27, to consider whether the cases should all be centralized before one judge for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.

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