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EPA Sued Over Paraquat Re-Approval

Environmental and agricultural workers groups have sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after it issued an interim re-approval for paraquat. Advocates allege that paraquat places agricultural workers in harm’s way and at an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and additional health conditions, like respiratory, kidney and liver failure. This collection of groups seek to have the EPA’s interim registration decision thrown out. In July 2021, the EPA issued an interim re-approval for paraquat, greenlighting the herbicide for use, with conditions.

Groups including California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and the Pesticide Action Network North America petitioned the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that re-approving paraquat violates the federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.

Sign at the entrance of the United States Environmental Protection Agency in Washington.

When asked for comment, the spokesperson for the EPA, Ken Labbe, declined to comment because the matter is before the courts. 

Health Issues Linked to Paraquat

Paraquat is currently banned in 32 countries, including the European Union, China and Brazil, due to its potential health consequences. Paraquat is still widely used in the U.S. Between 2012 and 2017, its use on agricultural crops like cotton, soybeans, corn, almonds, grapes and more to control grasses and invasive weeds doubled

Paraquat, while effective as a herbicide, is toxic to people in a tiny amount when ingested. Long-term health effects on workers exposed to paraquat are growing. Advocacy groups argue that paraquat exposure causes respiratory, kidney and liver failure, pulmonary edema and lung scarring. Additionally, advocates claim that paraquat exposure can be linked to Parkinson’s disease, an argument the EPA claims lacks evidence.

Related: The Dangers of Working with Paraquat

Paraquat Re-Approval Process

The EPA reviews and reassesses pesticides on a rotating basis, normally every 15 years. Paraquat was first registered with the EPA in 2006. As part of this rotating basis of review and re-approval, the EPA began reviewing paraquat in 2011 and invited the public to comment and provide feedback during the process. After public comments were closed, paraquat was granted an interim re-approval in July.

The interim re-approval includes several new measures meant to protect those handling and applying the herbicide. The new measures were introduced to limit exposure to paraquat. They included limiting aerial application and requiring the use of residential drift buffers to reduce the exposure to those living around the spray zone.

Paraquat Lawsuits Continue

Paraquat lawsuits continue to mount against the manufacturers of paraquat. Filed by agricultural workers diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological diseases and their families, the plaintiffs argue that manufacturers failed to warn the public and those exposed to paraquat about the link between Parkinson’s disease and other neurological problems. Product design defects and additional claims are also part of the lawsuits.

In June 2021, a U.S. judicial panel ordered that all current paraquat lawsuits be consolidated under MDL No. 3004, a measure meant to conserve the resources of the court, the parties and their counsel and streamline the legal proceedings.

As lawsuits continue to mount against manufacturers and the EPA, advocates are pushing for changes in paraquat’s regulations and pushing for protecting agricultural workers’ health.