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An Illinois man says he developed Parkinson’s disease from paraquat exposure, alleging in a recently filed lawsuit that he regularly and extensively used the toxic herbicide for years before his diagnosis.
The complaint (PDF) was filed this week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Illinois by James Hemker and his wife, Judith, presenting claims against Syngenta and Chevron, which have manufactured and sold paraquat-based weed and grass killers commonly used throughout the United States for decades.
Paraquat is a widely used herbicide known to be extremely toxic and pose serious health risks. While a number of countries have banned use of paraquat, it remains available in the United States under tight restrictions on purchase and use. However, warnings and safety instructions largely focus on the risk of poisoning, and a growing number of paraquat lawsuits are now being filed by individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, alleging the manufacturers knew or should have known about the risk, yet withheld warnings from consumers.
Hemker brought one of the first known cases filed in the federal court system, indicating he had frequent and prolonged exposure to paraquat since he was a young child. He worked on farms in Clinton County and Bond County with his father and brother, starting in the 1960s. According to the complaint, Hemker continued to work with paraquat on alfalfa, corn, soybean and wheat farms into the early 1980s, often mixing, loading and using spreader trucks to spray the herbicide on crops. He did the latter type of work almost every day from June through August from 1972 through 1976.
“From the late 1960s through the late 1970s or 1980, James Hemker was repeatedly exposed to and inhaled, ingested, and absorbed paraquat while he was mixing, loading, and spraying Defendants’ paraquat products and while he was in fields after they were sprayed,” the lawsuit states. “When Plaintiff James Hemker was exposed to paraquat, he neither knew nor could have expected that paraquat was neurotoxic or that exposure to it could cause any neurological injury or neurodegenerative disease.”
In 2008, Hemker was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which is a chronic and progressive condition that causes shaking, stiffness, difficulty walking and other debilitating symptoms that get worse over time.
Hemker presents claims of design defect, failure to warn, negligence, public nuisance, consumer fraud, deceptive business practices, and breach of warranty. His wife presents claims of loss of services and consortium.
The lawsuit follows a number of studies in recent years which linked paraquat and similar herbicides to an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.
In March 2016, the EPA announced it would be re-evaluating the health risks with Paraquat, and a number of health experts and consumer advocacy groups have called on the agency to remove Paraquat-based herbicides from the market in the U.S. However, it continues to be used by farmers and other industries for weed and grass control, potentially exposing individuals handling, mixing or applying the Paraquat to life-long health risks.
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.