Understanding the War on Paraquat

Paraquat Background

Paraquat is a herbicide used on hundreds of crops in the United States to both control weeds and to enable the easier harvest of crops. A number of scientific studies have found a link between Paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s Disease. It has also been found to cause damage to the respiratory system, eyes, and kidneys. Due to the risk, Paraquat has been banned in 32 countries including the UK, Europe, Brazil, and China.  However, in the United States, Paraquat is still used on farms.

Who Regulates Paraquat in the United States?

The Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for the permitting of chemicals used in the farming process including Paraquat. Many special interest groups and individuals have called upon the EPA to follow the lead of other countries and ban the use of Paraquat for any purpose.  However, the EPA has failed to ban Paraquat.

man applying herbicide to cropsOn August 2, 2021, The EPA had the chance to ban Paraquat when the 15-year permit was up. Instead, they decided to reapprove the use of Paraquat in the United States with added restrictions.  The new restrictions include:

  • The use of pressurized spray guns and back sprayers is prohibited.
  • The use of human flaggers guiding airplanes from the ground is prohibited.
  • Vehicles used for ground application must have enclosed cabs.
  • Respirators are required during all ground applications.
  • The Restricted Entry Interval (time workers must wait before entering a treated area) has been increased for several crops.

This decision is very problematic in that it still allows the aerial spraying of paraquat on all approved crops, including within 50 feet of houses for some applications—an action that places nearby residents at risk for incidental exposure.

Lawsuits Against Paraquat

Shortly after the EPA made the decision to reapprove Paraquat, a lawsuit was filed against the EPA by Earthjustice. Earthjustice is a nonprofit that represents many of the farmworkers, health organizations, and environmental groups who oppose the use of Paraquat in the United States for the potential harm it may cause to people, plants, and animals.

The Earthjustice lawsuit is not the first lawsuit filed against Paraquat. At least 90 lawsuits have been filed across the United States by victims and paraquat lawsuit lawyers against the manufacturers and distributors of Paraquat including a Paraquat class-action lawsuit filed in Iowa.  Additional Paraquat lawsuits continue to be filed.

One cluster of paraquat lawsuits has already been settled. A notice of settlement of a handful of cases has been filed in a California Court. With regards to the other cases, a Multidistrict Litigation has now been granted to consolidate the Paraquat cases in the Southern District of Illinois.

Paraquat Use Continues

Despite the flood of lawsuits and many more to come, the use of Paraquat is still allowed in the United States. The EPA seems unphased by the lawsuit directly against the agency as well as the fact that the manufacturer has already begun settling claims. One would think that this would cause the EPA to stop catering to the pesticide manufacturers.

Profits Vs People

Many large-scale farmers continue to promote the use of Paraquat due to the lack of an efficient alternative. Farmers fear their cost of crop production will rise if they must seek less-effective alternatives. Roundup has been banned in many countries, states, and cities after a flood of Roundup lawsuits against Bayer, most of which have ultimately been settled. Paraquat was widely adopted as an alternative to Roundup by many farmers.

Despite the clear health risks both of these weedkillers pose, companies will continue to sell them as long as there are buyers, and the EPA permits it. Once again, profits are placed over people.