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Groups Sue EPA for Allowing Use of Deadly Pesticide for 15 More Years

Paraquat is associated with Parkinson’s Disease, other serious health effects


Erin Fitzgerald,

Today, farmworker groups, environmentalists, and health organizations represented by Earthjustice sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for approving the continued use of the deadly pesticide paraquat, which has been linked to Parkinson’s Disease. Paraquat is currently banned in 32 countries, including member states of the European Union (where the chemical is manufactured and exported) and China. In July, EPA reapproved the pesticide’s registration for another 15 years.

Paraquat is one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States, used on crops like grapes, almonds, soy beans, cotton, and more. Its use has grown dramatically in recent years, doubling between 2012 and 2017 despite its serious health risks. Paraquat is acutely toxic when ingested, and even one small dose can be fatal. EPA determined that exposure to paraquat can damage the respiratory system, kidneys, and eyes, but EPA’s final approval abandoned a proposed ban on most aerial applications of paraquat, leaving farmworkers who work in the fields exposed to unreasonable risks. EPA also dismissed the connection between paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s Disease, despite scientific studies finding that paraquat can increase the risk of Parkinson’s by 150%.

“This paraquat registration puts EPA on the wrong side of science, history, and the law. With dozens of countries banning paraquat because of its severe health effects, there is no excuse for leaving farmworkers and agricultural communities exposed to extreme risks,” said Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, a senior attorney at Earthjustice.

All major agricultural states are hot spots for paraquat use, according to the latest government data, but communities in Kansas, Texas, and southern states like the Carolinas and Florida face extreme exposure, while nearby communities can be impacted by runoff and downstream effects.

Paraquat is manufactured by several companies including Chevron, Adama Group, and Syngenta, who are facing a growing number of personal injury lawsuits related to the use of paraquat and it’s long-term impacts on human health.

Quotes from our Clients:

“It is unconscionable that EPA so devalues the lives of farmworkers as to allow the continued use of this harmful toxic pesticide,” said Jeannie Economos, Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health Project Coordinator for the Farmworker Association of Florida. “The pandemic made the country aware that our nation’s agricultural laborers are essential. Yet EPA gives a green light to this health-harming chemical that puts men, women, and children at risk of life-long health effects. Paraquat has got to go!”

“Paraquat is a pesticide that has harmed too many of our farmworkers already! We cannot allow any more farm workers and their families to be exposed,” said Mily Trevino-Sauceda, executive director & co-founder of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas. “Too many farm workers have become affected, become disabled, and even suffered from kidney problems due to the exposure to this harmful pesticide.”

“Farmworkers, designated as essential workers who are expected to continue working during the pandemic to ensure our nation’s food security, continue to experience unnecessarily dangerous working conditions, including exposure to highly toxic pesticides,” said Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice. “Our food system should not subject farmworkers and their children to exposure to pesticides such as paraquat. We are asking the court to do what the EPA should already have done: ban paraquat.”

“Rural communities and farm workers are left in harm’s way because of EPA’s recent decision to allow the continued use of the pesticide paraquat,” said Anne Katten, director, Pesticide & Work Safety Project at California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF). “By discounting the body of scientific evidence that shows how dangerous this pesticide is, even in small quantities, EPA is ignoring the needs of the people and communities it’s legally responsible for protecting.”

“Paraquat is a deadly pesticide that mounting evidence shows is linked to Parkinson’s Disease. It has no place near farmworkers or the country’s agricultural fields, let alone the food we eat,” said Margaret Reeves, Senior Scientist at Pesticide Action Network of North America (PAN).

“Farmworkers — children and elders — will be irreparably harmed for the rest of their lives by the re-registration of paraquat,” said Connor Kippe, Policy Advocate at Toxic Free North Carolina. “The science is clear — paraquat is highly toxic, and even small doses by any method of transmission can affect health, especially for child farmworkers. Our flawed pesticide registration system enables this type of glancing regulatory approval, despite known harms to people in all parts of the food system.”

“The Biden EPA’s decision to reapprove widespread use, including aerial spraying, of this highly lethal pesticide shocks the conscience,” said Nathan Donley, environmental health science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Although much of the rest of the world has banned this dangerous poison, thanks to our rubber-stamp pesticide-approval process its use will continue to increase here in the U.S., even as scientific studies reveal stronger links between paraquat use and neurological harm in both people and wildlife.”

Earthjustice represents Farmworker Association of Florida, Farmworker Justice, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Pesticide Action Network North America, Center for Biological Diversity, and Toxic Free North Carolina.

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