Recently, plaintiffs across the country have started filing lawsuits against the makers of a highly toxic chemical herbicide called paraquat. This poisonous compound was used in agricultural applications all over the United States. While researchers have long known about the toxicity of paraquat, more recently the evidence has accumulated, pointing to the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease due to long term exposure to the chemical compound.
What is Paraquat?
Paraquat is known by several names: Gramoxone, Firestorm, Cyclone, Helmquat, Parazone, and Para Shot. Paraquat was first introduced to market in 1962, with its entry on the American market occuring in 1964. Syngenta, formerly known as ICI, manufactured the compound, which was then distributed by Chevron until 1986.
Paraquat is a highly toxic chemical compound. As a non-selective herbicide, paraquat will kill any plant it comes into contact with, weed, grass, or otherwise. Most paraquat products sold in the United States come in a liquid form, formulated to varying degrees of strength.
Common Uses of Paraquat
Paraquat is categorized under restricted use by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), meaning that only licensed commercial applicators may use the compound. Most commercial uses of paraquat involve large scale agricultural applications.
No till farming and total kill herbicide application are two primary modes of use for paraquat - in other words, its non-selective herbicidal nature makes it easy to quickly eradicate all weeds in preparation for new seeds. Paraquat becomes inactive upon contact with soil, meaning that once the unwanted plant life is eradicated, no biologically active residues remain in the soil. This enables applicators to plant and sow new seeds almost immediately after spraying their fields.
Commercial orchards and vineyards commonly use paraquat, as well as aquatic farms and railway or right of way applications. Paraquat is also used as a desiccant or defoliant, causing leaves to dry up and shed off of the plant. Corn, hay, soybeans, cotton, tobacco, and wheat are all produced on commercial farms that may use paraquat in their herbicide applications.
Who is Exposed to Paraquat, and What are the Risks?
While the highly toxic compound can be found throughout much of the United States, the use of paraquat is especially concentrated on the Eastern half of the country. Over sixty nations have banned paraquat, while the EPA has not yet moved to fully ban this dangerously toxic chemical compound. Meanwhile, agricultural workers continue to face the dangers of exposure, handling, mixing, and applying it from tractors, airplanes, crop dusters, and even backpack sprayers. Paraquat is not eligible for residential use. Only licensed users may purchase the herbicide commercially for large scale spraying applications. That being said, an estimated 36% of American use of the herbicide is residential, which is an alarming statistic considering the risks that regulated users already face.
Contact with the compound causes severe skin irritation, cracking and shedding of the nails, and delayed healing of cuts. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, and rapid heart beat can also occur. One sip of paraquat can be fatal due to heart, kidney, liver, and respiratory failure. There is currently no known antidote to the compound. In the highly unlikely event that an individual survives the ingestion of paraquat, they will suffer long term lung damage and scarring. As if all the acute exposure risks were not enough, now we know that developing Parkinson’s disease is yet another risk connected to long term paraquat exposure.
Understanding Parkinson's Population
Nearly one million people live with Parkinson’s disease in the United States, with approximately 60,000 Americans being diagnosed each year. Men are 1.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. While the likelihood of developing the disease increases with age, an estimated 4% of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s receive their diagnosis before the age of 50. It is likely that Parkinson’s disease develops due to certain genetic and environmental factors at play together.
Parkinson’s is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that occurs in part due to the functional loss of the dopamine neuron cells in the brain. These neuron cells may have an increased vulnerability to oxidative stress compared to other neurons. Researchers believe that paraquat may exacerbate this oxidative stress, particularly for people with certain genetic precursors for the disease. In basic terms, the same function that destroys cells in plants may also destroy vulnerable neuron cells in humans who are constantly exposed to paraquat. There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s disease is perhaps most well-known for its symptoms that affect bodily movements. In fact, some plaintiffs in paraquat lawsuits may have noticed the diminishment of certain bodily motor functions before their Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. Some of these symptoms include:
- Tremors or trembling
- Loss of balance
- Stiffness in posture
- Lessened facial expression or drooling
- Fatigue or dizziness
- Difficulty with body movements
- Slow or shuffling walk
- Sleep disturbance
- Anxiety or feelings of apathy
- Changes or difficulty in speaking
- Uncharacteristically small handwriting
- Amnesia/confusion in evening hours
Regardless of whether you believe there is a connection between your paraquat exposure and any symptoms you may be experiencing, it is imperative that you consult with your medical doctor to rule out Parkinson’s and any other diseases that include any of these symptoms. Not only is it recommended with your best health in mind, but also because a documented diagnosis is required to move forward with a qualified case for a potential paraquat lawsuit.
Stages of Parkinson’s
Researchers have firmly identified five main stages of Parkinson’s disease. Plaintiffs in paraquat lawsuits may be at any one of these five stages:
- Stage 1: Symptoms this early may go unnoticed because they’re mild and don’t usually interfere with everyday life. There could be a slight tremor or other movement symptoms noticeable on just one side of the body.
- Stage 2: Symptoms at this stage are more noticeable by now, but this is still considered fairly early in the disease. Both sides of the body are now affected as well as walking, posture, and speech abnormalities.
- Stage 3: This is midstage in the disease and is characterized by loss of balance and slowed movement. While people at this stage are still fully independent in their everyday life activities, the risk of falling becomes noticeably more common.
- Stage 4: This stage is when symptoms become more severely disabling. Some people may be able to stand or walk still, but often require the help of a walker. More assistance with daily tasks and activities may be needed.
- Stage 5: This is the most advanced stage, including debilitating muscle stiffness to the point of severity at which you cannot walk or stand. Hallucinations and delusions can also occur at this stage. Independent living at this stage becomes dangerous.
In recent years, lawsuits have been on the rise, from double to triple digits. 678 plaintiffs filed cases in federal courts against Syngenta, Chevron USA, and other paraquat manufacturers, to date. A multidistrict litigation (MDL) is occurring in the Southern District of Illinois, which is a district well known for having fair juries. There have also been 16 bellwether cases, though the bellwether pool has since been closed. The paraquat MDL is on a rocket docket, with its first trial date set and promising what should be a relatively speedy resolution. Per a recent court order, jury selection in the first trial selection case begins July 24, 2023. Meanwhile, California is seeing the highest number of state court cases, with 47 currently filed at the time of writing.
If you have been exposed to paraquat and are experiencing any troubling symptoms, your first step is to seek medical attention. Then, have your case evaluated by an experienced personal injury law firm to determine if your paraquat case is eligible. Remember, residential use of paraquat does not qualify for a lawsuit. Generally, only commercially licensed paraquat applicators and their workers who labor, or live on or near a paraquat sprayed farm are eligible.
In rare cases, plaintiffs with drift issues occurring due to living near a farm using paraquat may be accepted. However, these drift cases must prove that the farm in question actually used paraquat.
Cooney & Conway attorneys are leaders in cases dealing with toxic exposures. Our team has years of litigation experience, and we want to help you with your case. If you would like to have your paraquat exposure case evaluated at no charge, contact us today.