Regardless of where you are in life, you still owe most of your growth and nutrients to the farmers across our world.
Countless hours get pooled into the fields and crops that provide for the masses, and there isn't a single person on Earth who could keep up with the kind of maintenance that that quantity of food requires. So it was a necessity, rather than desire, that brought about selective growth serums, or as we commonly know them, herbicides.
Herbicides were foreign to us until the 1890s when scientists began to experiment with inhibiting growth in some plants while allowing the propagation of others. In theory, the herbicide would kill harmful weeds while allowing fruitful produce to grow uninhibited. If you've read my previous article about glyphosate, you already understand why leaning on such a chemical can result in tragedy.
(Image source: Image courtesy of Intelligent Living)
As we delve into this subject, it's important to remember that herbicides benefit our current way of life. I would be lying if I said herbicides were designed to harm us, which is why this lawsuit is so intriguing.
Herbicides are still considered poisons, which should be regulated accordingly. Otherwise, similar to the repercussions of glyphosate, they'll end up in court and be labeled a dangerous product. This is the case today with a widely known herbicide called paraquat.
Let's dive into the heart of the matter.
Table of Contents
What is Paraquat?
Dangers of Paraquat
The Paraquat Conspiracy
Heylings vs. Syngenta
Protection from Paraquat
What is Paraquat?
In the mid-1960s, paraquat dichloride, commonly known as "paraquat," was registered as a viable and admittedly powerful herbicide.
Paraquat was initially manufactured and sold by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in early 1962 under the trade name Gramoxone. The product's benefits make paraquat unique compared to other herbicides. It kills a wide range of weeds, works very quickly, doesn't wash off plants in the rain, and becomes inactive once it hits the soil … mostly.
Since its conception, paraquat has seen wide usage across the entire globe, and the U.S. is no different. Under different trade names—Gramoxone, Firestorm, Helmquat, and Parazone—paraquat is still an essential part of our agricultural production today.
Paraquat works exceptionally well in corn, soybean, and cotton growth. These three crops are staples in our society, but paraquat also supports plenty of fruits, vegetables, and grains while ensuring the soil they grow from is healthy for the plant. It seems only natural to use something so helpful to society.
While its usage is unfettered, farmworkers, railroad workers, and other people who work in areas exposed to the chemical have felt the repercussions of paraquat.
Dangers of Paraquat
Paraquat is toxic to human beings; it takes less than a tablespoon to kill an adult, and there is no known antidote. As with most harmful chemicals, a dutiful professional using the product as intended should mean that no fatalities occur. However, the world isn't perfect, and as a result, neither are herbicides.
We've briefly discussed the dangers of herbicides. Common sense rules that you wouldn't drink a pesticide intentionally. Paraquat and other herbicides, however, are sprayed across large swathes of land. Farmworkers will load tanks with the chemical and disperse them via a spraying mechanism.
(Image source: Image courtesy of Whitley Lawfirm)
The mechanism used for spraying paraquat and almost any other herbicide could be as simple as a backpack or as complex as a vehicle modified to spray chemicals specifically. Exposure to the chemical is virtually inevitable for the workers involved; that doesn't count the intermediaries who produce and deliver the chemical to farms in need.
Unfortunately, there have been consistent cases of fatal ingestion of paraquat. One to two deaths a year are accounted for in an ongoing battle between regulation and efficiency for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In 2016, the EPA expressly required new packaging to better describe the severity of paraquat's toxicity. To their credit, they did much more than just demand new labeling, but their efforts only really served to promote safe commercial farming practices.
(Image source: Image courtesy of Iowa State University)
Despite the EPA's best efforts, scientific studies conducted by doctors have found that those one to two deaths via ingestion were more than likely not accidental, which resulted in regulations across the globe. Some countries outright banned paraquat, while others have taken a similar approach to the EPA, preferring to restrict aerial applications instead and prevent non-commercial usage.
When accidental ingestion does occur, it is most often a child who has stumbled upon paraquat that had been improperly stored in a drinking container. While the EPA has strived to cement the toxicity of paraquat into our minds, they have no say about what other countries do. Many countries, including the United States, are still seeing wide usage of paraquat.
There is an attempt being made to justify how we sustain ourselves today. That seems like a righteous cause, but how honest can it be when the outcome causes people to come under risk?
Multiple claims regarding the long-term effects of working around paraquat have resulted in an exciting turn of events. Specifically, a rather extensive list of lawsuits argues the possibility of paraquat causing people to contract Parkinson's disease.
(Image source: Image courtesy of New York Times)
Parkinson's disease fits the bill for long-term effects, especially given how it affects people. Parkinson's affects the brain directly, causing involuntary muscle spasms, shaking, stiffness, and difficulty maintaining balance. The symptoms develop over time, slowly eroding brain cells regulating the nervous system.
While contracting Parkinson's disease is a tragedy, it's not an outright death sentence. Many support groups and medical professionals are willing to help those unfortunate enough to suffer from this disease.
Researchers and medical professionals working with Johns Hopkins Medicine have created a list of myths and facts about Parkinson's disease that sheds more light on the topic. While the majority of society has focused so heavily on the physical symptoms of Parkinson's disease, it's the unseen mental symptoms that cause the most damage.
(Image source: Image courtesy of Stanford Medicine)
Including the apparent issues with walking and speaking, there comes a swath of mental anguish, including memory loss, depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping, fatigue, and "behavioral changes," which amounts to even more frustration and grief.
It's only fitting that the companies producing paraquat be held accountable if they've allowed their employees and consumers to endure the risks as they have.
The Paraquat Conspiracy
There are thousands of active lawsuits involving the injured or otherwise people affected by paraquat. Companies such as Syngenta and Growmark have come under fire from all sides as they contend with lawsuits ranging from misrepresentation to gross negligence.
(Image source: Image courtesy of TorHoerman Law, LLC)
The majority of the lawsuits involved seem to focus on these points of contention:
Failure to adequately research the link between paraquat and Parkinson’s disease and warn consumers.
Failure to ensure that workers received adequate protection against the potential side effects of paraquat.
Misrepresenting the safety of paraquat for decades.
Negligently disregarding the potential paraquat risks.
According to the Lawsuit Information Center, the lawsuits for paraquat are continuing to mound up, with experts believing that the number of cases will only continue to grow as plaintiffs continue to argue the link between paraquat and Parkinson’s is irrefutable.
Having recognized the threat that paraquat represents to our health, it seems like the sensible action would be to ban it outright.
The EPA disagrees.
The EPA has "taken proactive steps” to ensure paraquat is used in a manner that will not cause unreasonable adverse effects to human health or the environment and is consistent with the label directions."
What are "unreasonable" adverse effects? If developing lesions in the brain is reasonable, then they're well within their rights to make such a claim.
But what if paraquat doesn’t cause Parkinson’s disease?
While anecdotal claims are everywhere regarding the link between paraquat and Parkinson's disease, the professionals seem to think otherwise. Studies as recent as 2021 conducted by non-biased researchers have denied the connection between paraquat exposure and contracting Parkinson's.
Paraquat seems to cause Parkinson's symptoms to develop in lab testing. Still, post-mortem reports of individuals exposed to paraquat revealed that they had no mention of Parkinson's disease in their death certificate, neither as a cause of death nor otherwise.
Despite conflicting research, there remains a strong case for those with Parkinson's after exposure to paraquat. In 2018, researchers from the University of Guelph in Ontario could concretely discern that exposure to certain agrochemicals, namely paraquat, would result in mutations that mimic Parkinson's, increasing the onset of the disease in those predisposed toward it.
While Parkinson's may be the most significant point of contention, it isn't the only one. A former ICI and Syngenta employee named Jon Heylings has much to say regarding safety measures.
Heylings vs. Syngenta
In the 1990s, when Heylings was still a junior scientist working for ICI, fatal ingestion of paraquat was the biggest concern. He happened upon a report conducted by Michael Rose, a senior scientist, which detailed the levels of PP796, an emetic agent meant to induce vomiting in case of ingestion.
Jon Heylings found in the "Rose Report" that Michael Rose had recorded an incorrect amount of the necessary emetic. Thus, the paraquat (Gramaxone) they produced was approved despite Heylings believing it contained levels of the emetic agent that were lower than required.
Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), ICI laboratory, Gracefield, Lower Hutt circa 1965, (Image source: Image courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand)
His discovery led to a crisis of conscience. Although he knew it would mean confronting his superiors, it also meant doing the right thing, which was a strong motivation for him to carry through.
According to his account of the events, he composed a memo and was satisfied that he had alerted management, and they had assured him that action would be taken. But what was the purpose of the Rose Report to begin with?
Chevron Chemical Company not only sold but manufactured and distributed paraquat until 1986. As such, it fell on Chevron when the EPA first began to put pressure on paraquat, threatening to have it removed from the market due to its toxicity and the threat that ingestion posed to consumers.
(Image source: Image courtesy of Jon Heylings)
ICI and Chevron introduced PP796 to their formula, a drug supposed to induce vomiting with the proper dosage. According to Rose's report, the appropriate amount had been administered to the chemical, about 0.05% concentration.
The inherent problem is that the test subjects who ingested the suggested amount of the emetic… simply weren't vomiting. With Chevron's scientists routing against them, it only made sense for ICI to… ignore them.
In 2001, ICI rebranded as Syngenta. Syngenta remains adamant that they've always had the appropriate emetic agents in their formula. They've openly stated that they disagree with Heylings and refute his claims as incorrect, and they've referred to it as a "fundamental disagreement."
(Image source: Image courtesy of The Intercept)
Syngenta insists that the amount of PP796 in their formula has always been appropriate for providing the desired effect. However, they then double back and claim that vomiting could harm the person who ingested paraquat, despite the alternative being a painful death.
They've consistently released wishes of good faith and expressed concern for the loss of their consumers but insist that paraquat is an integral part of our agricultural society.
The EPA needs to be careful with its next move. They may be suitable for handling paraquat in the ways they have thus far due to the admitted importance it has in our daily life.
While the chemical is dangerous, it sees wide usage as an annual herbicide, and there isn't a replacement yet. The future of paraquat in the US is debatable, but it isn't going anywhere soon.
So, what does the EPA suggest you do to protect yourself and your loved ones?
Protection from Paraquat
You can take several measures to protect yourself and your family from toxic herbicides. If you're fortunate enough to follow this guide, you'll do everything possible to prevent paraquat poisoning.
(Image source: Image courtesy of AgFax Weed Solutions)
The easiest and safest course of action is not using the chemical. To benefit from paraquat, you would need to be a certified applicator or under the direct supervision of a certified applicator. The new labels enforced by the EPA have ensured that you can only buy and use paraquat as an untrained citizen.
Another precaution is never to place paraquat (or ANY toxin for that matter) into a food or drink container. It may seem common sense, but a shocking number of people who have access to paraquat have fallen victim to accidental ingestion in this fashion.
You should always secure dangerous chemicals in a place that children can not access. Children and teens often ingest chemicals accidentally and may do so without grasping the consequences that might follow their actions. This is essential if you have access to paraquat or other chemicals.
To further protect your children, paraquat should never be stored near residential areas and should always be kept in a secure location until utilized for its intended purpose.
The EPA states that paraquat should NEVER be used around home gardens, schools, recreational parks, golf courses, or playgrounds. The herbicide serves a purpose for large farms with plenty of crops to treat but has no place around recreational fields.
Despite all those efforts, paraquat and other herbicides may still be on your food. It's in your own home, your bastion of safety, that you can decide whether or not to take that extra step toward safety.
With the help of the DTX-1 Detoxifier by MIRA Safety, you can ensure that your food is free of unwanted contaminants by oxidizing pesticides, herbicides, and harmful compounds.
By placing your desired food items into a clean container and submerging them in water, you can utilize the DTX-1's supersonic technology, which rapidly saturates the water with active oxygen molecules, ultimately penetrating the food product and ridding it of contamination.
Though you may never come into contact with paraquat, you may know someone who has or does it regularly. Knowing the risks involved with the chemicals that assist our society is worth more than not knowing them.
While we're watching for the future of paraquat, it's worth mentioning how remarkable it is, yet having the acknowledgment that something so deadly is crucial to our agricultural balance.
We've raised many questions about the safety of farm workers and those affected by unintentional ingestion of paraquat. On the one hand, the chemical is undeniably dangerous, and lawsuits raised against it are still very much in play.
Detractors are speaking ill of both Syngenta and Heyling's statements. While this article means to shed light on paraquat, it in no way aspires to solve issues that even experts can't agree upon.
One day, paraquat will have a suitable replacement, and we'll no longer have to question its relevance. Until then, we'll have to hope that relief comes soon.