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Connection Between Paraquat Herbicide Exposure and Parkinson’s

For decades, farmworkers, groundskeepers, and agricultural workers have used Paraquat, the highly toxic chemical herbicide that kills brought-leaf grasses and weeds. Unfortunately, exposure to the highly toxic chemical has been linked to numerous illnesses, including Parkinson’s disease.

The personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC represent clients harmed by toxic chemicals and hazardous environments. Our product liability attorneys are currently pursuing Paraquat lawsuit compensation claims to secure justice on behalf of our clients to ensure they receive the monetary recovery they deserve.

Even though the Environmental Protection Agency has evaluated environmental factors and identified the extreme toxicity of Paraquat, the chemical pesticides are still used nationwide. 

The herbicide is mainly used in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

Paraquat Exposure Parkinson's Disease

There is a strong scientific connection between Paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s Disease

There is a strong scientific connection between Paraquat and Parkinson’s Disease. Many individuals who have been exposed to the highly toxic herbicide develop severe health conditions, including:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Behavioral and mood changes
  • Constipation
  • Coordination and balance issues
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Dehydration
  • Delusional thoughts
  • Difficulty walking
  • Gastrointestinal distress including vomiting, bloody stools, diarrhea, nausea
  • Insomnia and other sleeping issues
  • Loss of memory
  • Lack of motivation
  • Loss of smell
  • Low blood pressure
  • Motor function slowness and stiffness
  • Paranoia
  • Resting tremors
  • Sexual issues
  • Skin changes
  • Speech problems
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Sweating
  • Unexpected weight change
  • Urination difficulties
  • Visual changes
  • Visual hallucinations

For decades, medical science has researched Paraquat to identify severe long-term effects on humans, especially those who develop Parkinson’s disease. 

To date, some research has concluded that exposure to Paraquat might be one of the confounding factors of early-onset Parkinson’s disease, progressive supranuclear palsy, multiple system atrophy, and atypical Parkinson’s.

What Is Paraquat?

Paraquat dichloride is an organic methyl viologen salt compound used in various herbicide products due to its nonselective quick-acting properties that kill green plants on contact. The chemical was first produced during the late 1880s but was not recognized for its herbicidal qualities until the 1950s.

In 1962, the Imperial Chemical Industries Laboratories manufactured and sold Gramaxone, a highly effective herbicide containing Paraquat.

Paraquat is typically formulated with negatively charged ions (anions), including salt with chloride. The chemical acts effectively as an herbicide by inhibiting plant tissue photosynthesis, destroying the reactive oxygen species cycle.

The chemical has a faint, ammonia-like odor and yellow appearance, with properties that can:

  • Act fast
  • Kill a wide range of broad-leaf weeds and annual grasses
  • Quickly dries minutes after application (rain-fast)
  • Partially inactivates when contacting soil

The U.S. weed killer market offers paraquat-products in various strengths under “restrictive use,” meaning only licensed applicators can use the solution. However, statistics show that the rate of paraquat use has nearly doubled since 2013 reaching 10 million pounds used every year in the U.S.

The European Union approved the use of Paraquat except in Finland, Austria, and Denmark due to the damage to human health. However, not every individual exposed to Paraquat has an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, nor does every individual with genetic susceptibility acquire the condition.

That said, epidemiological evidence shows a causal relationship of exposure to toxic herbicides and pesticides affecting neurons in control studies.

What Is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative complex syndrome caused by differing pathogenesis. The condition is associated with deposits and aggregations of specific proteins, mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress, and apoptosis.

Various motor and non-motor symptoms might be an indicator of early-onset Parkinson’s disease, including:

  • Akinesia (lost or impaired voluntary movements)
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Impaired balance
  • Insomnia
  • Limb rigidity
  • Motor deficits
  • Movement disorder
  • Postural disturbances
  • Resting tremors

People who developed Parkinson’s disease might also experience other severe neurological deficits manifesting with disease progression.

Scientists believe that dopaminergic neurons are the primary target of manifested toxicity, resulting in Parkinson’s disease. Postmortem analyses of Parkinson’s patients revealed a neuronal loss in the midbrain’s basal ganglia structure (substantia nigra).

One study author said that “Many experimental ‘animal and in vitro’ studies of P.Q. have been performed looking for effects, such as deficits in dopaminergic neurons, but there remain many challenges in interpreting the relevance of these studies to humans.”

In recent years, doctors and scientists have had an ongoing concern that epidemic (external) factors, including cumulative lifetime exposure to pesticides and environmental chemicals, like Paraquat, have an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease or directly caused the syndrome.

Some cohort studies have revealed potential confounding factors to developing Parkinson’s disease, including rural living, farming, well water consumption, age groups, caffeine intake, cigarette smoking, family history of Parkinson’s, and infections including nocardiosis.

Paraquat and the Environmental Protection Agency

In its purest form, Paraquat is highly toxic to all mammals, including humans, causing significant medical problems, including ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome). As a result, doctors often use activated charcoal or Fuller’s earth (bentonite or palygorskite (attapulgite)) to treat paraquat-acquired toxicity, although they are not effective antidotes.

Laboratory animal studies show acute toxicity and acute inhalation effects through inhalation.

However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates Paraquat at doses used in agriculture at 400-800 μm as having acceptable inhalation toxicity respirable ranges.

The chemical is minimally toxic through an oral route (ingesting) and moderately toxic through a dermal route (skin contact). However, exposure to Paraquat can cause severe eye irritation.

Some studies show that a simple swish of Paraquat in the mouth and spat out immediately could lead to lung fibrous tissue death and asphyxiation, causing suffocation, unconsciousness, or death.

Imperial Chemical Industries, the company that first manufactured Paraquat, studied mice inhaling the chemical that later developed squamous metaplasia (non-cancerous (benign) epithelium changes) in the rodents’ respiratory tracts.

Paraquat and Parkinson’s Disease

Thirty-three countries worldwide have banned Paraquat, even in countries like England that continue to manufacture the chemical and sell most of their product to the United States. In 2012, China, which produces Paraquat, stated it would begin phasing out pesticide use to “safeguard people’s lives.”

The National Institute of Health conducted the FAME (Farming and Movement Evaluation) study in 2011 involving farmworkers, linking Parkinson’s disease (P.D.) with paraquat use. The study cited that the chemical increases oxygen derivative production that might cause cellular structure damage.

The research claimed that pesticides with the exact mechanism of action as Paraquat increase the human risk of Parkinson’s disease.

When the study was released, the Swiss herbicide manufacturer Syngenta released a different study revealing that Paraquat use among farmers reduces their chances of developing P.D. (Parkinson) disease than among the non-herbicide using population.

Syngenta’s claim was debated for years by the researchers who concluded high Paraquat levels increased the potential of developing Parkinson’s disease by nearly 2.5 times.

Animal studies, including the report, show the degeneration of dopaminergic mesocortical neurons and activation of compensatory processes induced by a long-term paraquat administration in rats. In addition, the study Implications for Parkinson’s disease (2006) found a link between Paraquat-induced toxicity in rodents and degenerative neurological mechanisms like P.D. (Parkinson) caused by oxidative stress.

Other research revealed the structural similarity between Paraquat and MPP +, including those contaminated with MPTP, that interferes with mitochondria for oxidative phosphorylation, causing ATP (Adenosine 5-triphosphate) depletion and cell death.

Exposure to Paraquat has also been shown to induce oxidative stress in invertebrates. In addition, flies fed Paraquat developed early-onset mortality.

Paraquat Use: Increased Risk of Parkinson’s Disease

One human health study, conducted by Professor Scott Ryan at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, determined that even low-level exposure to Paraquat and other pesticides can disrupt human cell structure.

The Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology Professor Ryan says that “people exposed to these chemicals are at about a 250-percent increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than the rest of the population.”

Ryan also stated that “Until now, the link between pesticides and Parkinson’s disease was based primarily on animal studies as well as epidemiological research that demonstrated an increased risk among farmers and others exposed to agricultural chemicals. We are one of the first to investigate what is happening inside human cells.”

Research shows that human cells exposed to agricultural chemicals, including Paraquat, prevent energy-producing mitochondria from movement inside the cell and depletes the cell’s energy neurons.

The study also showed that exposure to toxic chemicals, including Paraquat at doses lower than the Environmental Protection Agency’s lowest observed effect level, showed impairment in Parkinson’s disease patients’ neurons.

Professor Scott’s findings showed that “people with a predisposition for Parkinson’s disease are more affected by these low-level exposures to agrochemicals and therefore more likely to develop the disease. This is one of the reasons why some people living near agricultural areas are at a higher risk.”

Scott concluded that “this study shows that everyone is not equal, and the safety standards need to be updated in order to protect those who are more susceptible and may not even know it.”

Paraquat v. Monsanto’s Roundup

Since Monsanto acquired Bayer pharmaceuticals in 2018, they have continued to manufacture and sell their broad-spectrum glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup, the most popular herbicide in the United States.

Unlike Paraquat, Roundup is formulated with the isopropylamine salt of glyphosate, and polyethoxylated tallow amine, the primary but highly toxic, active ingredients that kill broad-leaf plant tissue.

Increased Risk of Paraquat and Parkinson’s Disease

The American Council on Science and Health rates Paraquat between 33 and 250 on the relative toxicity scale, similar to glyphosate, a highly used toxic herbicide. The Environmental Protection Agency recognizes that approximately 2.5 g of Paraquat is lethal when swallowed or inhaled.

The long-term effects of Paraquat can be deadly. Individuals surviving the chemical’s toxic effects could experience permanent lung damage that scars tissue or other medical conditions, including heart failure, kidney failure, or esophageal strictures where the swallowing tube scars make it challenging to swallow.

Other symptoms of ingesting Paraquat include confusion, fast heart rate, coma, muscle weakness, fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema), seizures, and respiratory failure. Any significant ingestion of toxic Paraquat is likely fatal.

Michael J. Fox Foundation and Parkinson’s Disease

The Parkinson’s Alliance, led by Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, initiated a two-year $4.4 million research project to fund research through grant money. One grant funded Neonatal Pesticide Exposure and Parkinson’s Disease by Mona Thiruchelvamat at the University of Rochester.

Thiruchelvamat’s project proposed determining if permanent neurotoxicity arose from Paraquat and maneb (fungicide) exposure to see if humans had an enhanced vulnerability after use. Her agricultural health study hypothesized that exposure to the herbicide and fungicide could cause permanent changes to the brain at specific times.

She found through her studies on test mammals that “exposure to pesticides [after childbirth] can produce permanent and progressive lesions of the nigrostriatal dopamine system [in the midbrain] and enhanced adult susceptibility to these pesticides, suggesting the developmental exposure to neural toxicants may be involved in the induction of neurodegenerative disorders or alter the normal aging process.”

Paraquat Poisoning

The highly toxic herbicide Paraquat has been available in the United States since the early 1960s as a commercial herbicide that prevents grass and weed growth on crops. However, the chemical is so highly toxic that one sip of the fluid could be fatal.

Medical science has yet to identify any known antidote to stop the lethal effects of Paraquat when inhaled or ingested.

Individuals can develop Paraquat poisoning if:

  • Inhaling or ingesting Paraquat
  • Touching the liquid after it sprayed on plants
  • Contacting liquid Paraquat on the skin
  • Mixing, loading, or applying the chemical

U.S. regulations require that any paraquat sold nationwide be formulated with specific safeguards to ensure individuals do not accidentally consume the product. These safeguards include:

  • Adding a blue dye to the liquid to make it easily distinguishable from beverages
  • Adding a vomit-inducing chemical agent if consumed
  • Adding a strong odor

The listed specific safeguards help prevent the accidental consumption of the toxic chemical. However, the precautions do little to protect a person living near a sprayed area or applying the chemical as directed.

Paraquat: A Highly Regulated Toxic Chemical

In 1997, the EPA announced that Paraquat exposure through loading, mixing, or applying the herbicide or after its application represented the primary type of exposure workers had to the toxic chemical.

Over the next two decades, the scientific community has conducted tests, experiments, and studies on the damaging effects and possible risks of Parkinson’s disease to Paraquat use.

The American Journal of Epidemiology published a study paper showing that families living within 1600 feet of any area exposed to Paraquat had a 75% increased potential risk of acquiring Parkinson’s disease. Two years later, the Environmental Health Perspectives Journal released a study concluding that “Parkinson’s disease was strongly associated with Paraquat.”

For years, the United States Federal government has strongly regulated the toxic herbicide Paraquat, with approval used only by groundskeepers, agricultural workers, and farmers due to the known risk factors. In addition, only individuals who have completed an EPA-approved training program can apply the herbicide under “restricted use pesticide” regulations.

Even so, there have been significant concerns that human exposure to Paraquat causes neurological brain damage and should not be allowed for sale or use in the United States. 

Even the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) report indicates that the toxic chemical is significantly more harmful than other herbicides and pesticides, especially when inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin.

In July 2019, U.S. Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez sought to ban the pesticide linked to Parkinson’s and other conditions, including thyroid problems, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and respiratory issues. Rep. Velasquez (D-NY) claims that 17 individuals had died from accidentally drinking the toxic chemical over the last two decades. Another three died after the chemical entered the eyes and skin.

Natural Resources Defense Counsel Federal Affairs Director Brian Sui spoke about the Congresswoman’s efforts saying that “dangerous chemicals like Paraquat have no place in our food system.”

Center for Biological Diversity EPA Policy Specialist Emily Knobbe stated that “it is nothing short of alarming that paraquat use has nearly doubled in the United States at the same time it has been outlawed in China, Brazil, and Europe. We are grateful that Rep. Velasquez introduced this long-overdue bill to finally banned this dangerous herbicide that our own EPA calls’ extremely’ toxic to plants and animals.”

Paraquat herbicide is manufactured and sold under different brand names, including:

  • Blanco
  • Bonfire Herbicide
  • Devour
  • Firestorm
  • Gramaxone
  • Helmquat
  • Paraquat
  • Para-SHOT
  • Parazone
  • Quik-Quat

The Cost of Parkinson’s Disease

In 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency received a letter from the Unified Parkinson’s Advocacy Council outlining Parkinson’s disease onset due to occupational exposure of Paraquat and the country’s economic costs and caring for and treating individuals who have Parkinson’s disease. 

The Unified Parkinson’s Advocacy Council letter detailed that:

  • Over $26,000 per year is spent providing individual care and support for a person with Parkinson’s disease
  • The U.S. Government suffers a nearly $27 billion economic burden each year in the care and support of individuals with Parkinson’s to ensure well being
  • The chronically ill with Parkinsonism rely on numerous governmental programs, including SSDI (Social Security disability insurance), Medicare, and Medicaid

That same year, plaintiffs sued Growmark and Syngenta, two of the world’s leading manufacturers of the highly toxic herbicide paraquat. The lawsuit listed agricultural workers and farmers as plaintiffs to the suit after developing Parkinson’s disease due to herbicide and pesticide exposure.

Since then, the plaintiffs added Chevron Chemical as an additional defendant with evidence that the company failed to warn users of the environmental health risks, connections, and links with using the product.

The following year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released new protocols under its National Toxicology Program over Parkinson’s disease and exposure to paraquat dichloride.

Take Legal Action Now: Contact a Paraquat Injury Attorney Today

Were you or a loved one exposed to toxic levels of paraquat dichloride herbicide? Other innocent victims have filed civil lawsuits against Syngenta, Growmark, and other paraquat manufacturers seeking compensation for their pain, suffering, symptoms, and wrongful death.

The personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC now accept cases for farmworkers, agricultural workers, and groundskeepers who have been exposed to Paraquat and diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease or other health conditions.

Contact our attorneys today at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone call) or through the contact form to schedule a free consultation where we can talk about your legal options.

All information you share with our law firm remains confidential through an attorney-client relationship. In addition, our law offices currently follow CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Covid-19 (coronavirus) social distancing guidelines to ensure our clients’ safety.

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