Paraquat EPA Authorization Challenged By Parkinson’s Research Group, Farmworkers, Others

A number of farming, environmental and Parkinson’s disease research groups are seeking to force the federal government to overturn a recent EPA decision to re-approve the weedkiller Paraquat, claiming that the herbicide carries an unreasonable risk to farmers’ health.

In a petition (PDF) filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on September 23, the Paraquat EPA authorization was challenged by the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, the Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc., the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Farmworker Justice, Alianza Nacional De Campesinas, Pesticide Action Network North America, the Center for Biological Diversity and Toxic Free North Carolina.

Paraquat is a controversial herbicide that has been widely used on farms and throughout the agricultural industry for decades to control weeds and long grasses, which is sold through supply stores under a number of brand names, including Gramoxone, Blanco, Cyclone, Bonedry and others. However, increasing concerns have emerged about the link between exposure to Paraquat and Parkinson’s disease, even when all of the recommended safety precautions are taken.

Despite growing evidence documenting the risk of neurological injuries for farmers, as well as long-standing concerns about the risk of Paraquat poisoning if even a small amount of the herbicide is ingested, the EPA re-approved the use of Paraquat in July, allowing the herbicide to stay on the market for at least another 15 years.

In a press release announcing the lawsuit, the Center for Biological Diversity noted that Paraquat is widely banned from use in 32 countries, including the European Union member states where it is manufactured, as well as China.

“This paraquat registration puts EPA on the wrong side of science, history and the law,” Jonathan Kalmiss-Katz, a senior attorney with the environmental group, Earthjustice, which is representing the plaintiffs, said in the press release. “With dozens of countries banning paraquat because of its severe health effects, there is no excuse for leaving farmworkers and agricultural communities exposed to extreme risks.”

If they are successful in overturning the Paraquat EPA approval, the herbicide could end up being banned in the U.S. as well.

Paraquat Litigation

The petition comes as more than 200 farmers and others are pursuing Paraquat lawsuits against Syngenta and Chevron throughout the federal court system, each raising similar allegations that exposure to the herbicide left plaintiffs with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, which is a progressive and debilitating condition that causes loss of motor functions, tremors and shaking. More than 500,000 Americans are impacted by the neurological condition, with about 50,000 new cases each year, and no known cure available.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in the lawsuits, all federal Paraquat Parkinson’s claims are centralized before U.S. District Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel in the Southern District of Illinois, as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL) for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings. However, as lawyers continue to review and file claims for individuals diagnosed after working in the farming or agricultural industry, it is ultimately expected that several thousand claims will be included in the Paraquat litigation.

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