Like other pesticides, paraquat has been the subject of controversy for some time now. In Switzerland, for example, the toxic substance has been banned since 1989. The rest of the European Union has followed the Swiss’ lead, including England — even though there is still a factory there where paraquat is manufactured for export. (RELATED: Follow more news headlines on pesticides at Pesticide.news)
Even China has phased out the use of paraquat. In 2012, the Chinese government announced that the pesticide would no longer be used in order to “safeguard people’s lives.” China is not a nation that is recognized for its environmental protection policies. If they’re concerned about this pesticide, it stands to reason we should be too.
And yet, for some reason, paraquat is still available in the United States — even in spite of the growing body of research that suggests it is an extremely harmful chemical that likely causes Parkinson’s disease.
You’d think that as Europe and China ceased to use paraquat, the US would follow suit. But instead, use of this pesticide has only begun to increase. Last year, some 7 million pounds of paraquat were used on 15 million acres of land. To make matters worse, more weeds are becoming resistant to more popular pesticides like Roundup, and paraquat is being marketed as a substitute.
(Related: Learn more about glyphosate at Glyphosate.news)
The Paraquat Controversy
Paraquat first became heavily scrutinized for its use in suicide attempts; just a single sip of this stuff can be lethal. But now, a wave of research on this contentious product has shown that there are less-immediate effects of exposure to paraquat — like Parkinson’s disease.
The New York Times has even reported that the Environmental Protection Agency made note of paraquat’s toxicity in a recent regulatory filing. The EPA itself said, “There is a large body of epidemiology data on paraquat dichloride and Parkinson’s disease.” The Times writer Danny Hakim writes that the EPA is currently debating on whether or not the pesticide should still be allowed to be sprayed on our country’s farmland. A decision is not expected to be reached until sometime in 2018.
Europe is known for their cautious approach to pesticides; several bans and moratoriums on a number of different products have taken place over the years. While often criticized by industry officials, paraquat shows that caution is truly necessary when dealing with toxic chemicals — even if they are supposedly not intended to be toxic to humans.
Research on paraquat and Parkinson’s disease
Perhaps what is most disturbing about paraquat is that science has indicated that the pesticide was possibly linked to Parkinson’s disease for more than twenty years. Over the last five years, however, research on the matter has grown more extensive.
In 2011, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) led a study that found two pesticides — rotenone and paraquat — were linked to a substantially higher risk of Parkinson’s disease. The study found that the use of either pesticide was linked a 2.5-time increase in risk of developing the condition. The research was a collaborative effort that included National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), which is part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center in Sunnyvale, CA.
Freya Kamel, Ph.D. is a researcher in the intramural program at NIEHS and co-author of the paper appearing online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. She stated that “Paraquat increases production of certain oxygen derivatives that may harm cellular structures. People who used these pesticides or others with a similar mechanism of action were more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.”
A meta-analysis that was published in 2013 by the journal Neurology also found that exposure to paraquat and other similar pesticides could increase Parkinson’s disease risk. In their conclusion, the team states that current literature supports the theory that pesticide exposure increases Parkinson’s disease risk.
In 2000, which was almost 2 decades ago, research confirmed a potential link between pesticide exposure and Parkinson’s. Later, a 2006 study would show that exposure to paraquat resulted in a 70 percent higher chance of developing Parkinson’s disease. Research has been indicative of paraquat’s dangers for the last 20 years or so, and more recent research has only confirmed these suspicions.
The call to ban paraquat in the US has been a long time coming, but will the EPA listen?