What to Know About Paraquat Poisoning

worker in PPE spraying herbicide

What is Paraquat?

Paraquat dichloride, or simply, Paraquat, is a highly toxic herbicide or weed killer. It's on top of the list of the most commonly used farming herbicides in the US. Paraquat can cause sudden and serious symptoms, or even fatal poisoning when ingested or inhaled. As such, it's not allowed for public use or in residential areas. You need a license and certificate from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use the chemical for farming. 

Causes and Sources of Paraquat Poisoning

Since its release in the market in the 1960s, paraquat has been an active ingredient for widely available weed killers like Gramoxone, Blanco, Para-SHOT, and Helmquat. Farmers use the chemical to control weeds and grasses in fruit orchards, crops, and cotton farms, drying out potato stems, and removing the leaves from hops before harvest. 

Aside from the EPA's mandate for a certificate and license to use paraquat, there are other measures taken to avoid paraquat poisoning. Some of which are: 

  • Ensuring that the chemical is labeled properly in bottles out of reach of children
  • Prohibiting the use of paraquat in residential areas
  • Prohibiting the transfer of chemicals in regular containers and drink bottles to avoid accidental ingestion of the liquid. 

Ingestion is the most common route of paraquat poisoning, but inhalation also plays a big part in this problem. Some instances of paraquat poisoning resulted from: 

  • Consuming contaminated food and drinks
  • Frequent and long-term exposure of farmworkers to the chemical
  • Skin exposure to high concentrations of paraquat. The chance of poisoning increases if there are cuts, sores, or open wounds on the skin. 

1983 study by Landrigan and colleagues also reported the presence of paraquat in marijuana in the Southwestern US. The concentration of which exceeds the health hazard for the chemical. Therefore, exposure through inhalation by marijuana smokers can lead to serious pulmonary problems. 

Who Is at Risk of Paraquat Poisoning?

 The concentration of paraquat, as well as the route and duration of the exposure, affect the possible health effects of the chemical. When ingested or absorbed through cuts in the skin, paraquat may enter the bloodstream and be distributed to various organs of the body, primarily the lungs, liver, and kidneys. They also cause damage to the gut lining when ingested. 

When inhaled, paraquat is more likely to damage the lungs as there are several receptors for the chemical in lung cells. 

The people most at risk of paraquat poisoning include:

  • Paraquat applicators, especially those using portable hand-held sprayers. Pesticide overspray is also a common issue such that a surplus of the chemical is applied to an agricultural area and over time, spreads to other areas. Serious problems may occur if this reaches residential areas. 
  • Farmworkers
  • Mixers and loaders of the chemical
  • People living in areas where paraquat is used for weeding. The phenomenon called pesticide drift occurs when the herbicides are carried through the air and spread in areas where they're not meant to be used. 

Symptoms of Paraquat Poisoning

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says the most serious and sudden symptoms of paraquat poisoning result from ingestion as it directly affects the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. This includes: 

  • Swelling of the mouth and throat, 
  • Nausea, 
  • Vomiting, 
  • Abdominal pain, and 
  • Bloody diarrhea. 

The chemical spreads easily by way of inhalation or ingestion. As such, symptoms develop quickly. The damage in the gut may also cause dehydration and loss of essential electrolytes in the body, thus resulting in low blood pressure and complications in the heart, kidneys, and liver. Within hours or days, the poisoning will lead to neurological manifestations such as:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Respiratory and other organ failures
  • Tachycardia

Multiple organ failures -- usually of the  lung, liver, heart, and kidneys -- due to severe and prolonged presence of the chemical in the system may lead to death. 

Long-term Effects of Paraquat Exposure

If the patient exposed to paraquat immediately seeks medical help, he or she might survive the poisoning. However, they may develop some long-term effects of the poisoning depending on the length and severity of the exposure. Some of the long-term health problems caused by paraquat exposure include:

  • Esophageal strictures -- scarring of the esophagus making swallowing difficult for the patient
  • Permanent scarring and damage to lung tissues
  • Chronic respiratory ailments, especially pulmonary fibrosis
  • Chronic heart problems
  • Kidney failure, requiring the patient to seek permanent dialysis treatments

A 2017 report by the Public Eye entitled "Adverse health effects caused by paraquat" also linked paraquat exposure to Parkinson's, impaired lung function, endocrine and reproductive disruption, immunotoxicity, dermatitis, kidney damage, and genotoxicity. 

What to Do after Suspected Paraquat Poisoning?

Seek medical help and go to the hospital right away if a person is exposed to paraquat. If you still can, remove your clothes, put them in a plastic bag, and wash the affected area with soap and water. Medical professionals' utmost priority would be to remove the poison from the body to treat the symptoms and prevent further damage to the body. Some of the available treatments for paraquat poisoning are as follows:

  • Kidney dialysis to assist the kidneys in filtering the blood of the poison
  • Ventilator to assist the patient in breathing
  • Medications to raise the patient's blood pressure
  • IV fluids to replace the lost fluids and electrolytes due to the gut and other tissue damage
  • N-acety-cysteine and other antioxidants to detoxify the liver and other organs
  • Fuller's earth sequesters the poison and removes it from the body, and
  • Activated charcoal to block the absorption of the poison in the body. 

If the Paraquat poisoning causes health problems and later developed into long-term health effects, you may be entitled to Paraquat compensation. 

Cooney and Conway's more than 60 years of experience proves its ability to help your Paraquat-related case due to potential manufacturer or operator negligence.  Fill out our FREE case evaluation and get an insight on the next legal steps you can take.