Published: May 27, 2023

Category: Pesticides

More than 3,000 farmers have filed lawsuits against paraquat’s manufacturers, Chevron and Syngenta

The herbicide paraquat was introduced in 1962 and promoted as an alternative to plowing soil, which began to fall into disfavor because of its degradation of soil. Chevron, paraquat’s manufacturer, claimed the weedkiller was necessary for no-till farming.

Paraquat remains one of the most popular herbicides in the U.S., applied in the greatest quantities to soybeans, cotton, and grapes. It is also the deadliest pesticide used in the U.S. One sip of it can kill a human being. A growing body of evidence links the weedkiller to Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological condition with no cure.

Due to its extreme toxicity, more than 50 countries have banned paraquat, including the E.U., U.K., China, and Brazil. It remains legal to use in the U.S. but is now under greater scrutiny due to a growing number of lawsuits filed by people who claim they’ve been harmed by it. More than 3,000 farmers have filed federal lawsuits against Chevron and its main manufacturer Syngenta, which sells it in the U.S under the brand name Gramoxone.

The lawsuits have produced hundreds of documents, published by The Guardian and The New Lede, including evidence that the companies knew—as early as the 1960s—about paraquat’s potential risks to the brain and feared the potential of lawsuits.

The first federal trial is set for October 2023, and it could result in payouts to affected farmers. There are also more than 100 cases in California state courts, similarly consolidated, set to have the first trial in June, as well as many individual cases filed in state courts across the country.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s analysis of paraquat’s risk is also be scrutinized. In 2021, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the EPA for its interim reapproval of paraquat for another 15 years. The lawsuit claims that the agency “repeatedly understated the extent of paraquat’s adverse effects,” including dismissing its link to Parkinson’s. Last December, the EPA requested and was granted the opportunity to revisit its analysis of paraquat, which could result in stricter safety guidelines or even a ban.

In the meantime, farmers affected by paraquat hope for justice. Retired farmer Larry Wyles hopes that “the companies that produce this herbicide should be held responsible for whatever they are responsible for,” he said. “If [my Parkinson’s disease] had to do with paraquat, then they should pay dearly for that because it has helped to take the dignity out of my life.’”

Source: Civil Eats

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