Weeds might be the bane of your existence, particularly if you’re a farmer or grow crops to sell. Keeping invasive weeds at bay might help your crops to flourish, but it’s important to know the toxicity of the pesticides you use.
Paraquat herbicide has been shown to cause health problems in the farmers and growers who use it on their farms, but also for residents who live in nearby communities.
Health hazards associated with Paraquat dichloride
Paraquat dichloride (“paraquat”) is sold under brand names that include Gramoxone, Parazone, Firestorm, Quick-Quat, Para-Shot 3.0 and others. The product is a popular, inexpensive, highly toxic weed killer used in the agricultural industry.
Paraquat has been used since 1961 to kill weeds and defoliate crops before harvesting. It’s powerful and effective, and it can also be used as a burn-down for soybean and similar crops before planting.
However, lawsuits claim that Paraquat can cause Parkinson’s disease in humans.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder of the nervous system. It usually progresses gradually, often beginning with a tremor in one hand and becoming more symptomatic to include stiffness or slowed movement.
A person in the early stages of Parkinson’s might not be able to show expression with their face, their arms might not swing when they walk, or their speech could become slurred. There’s no cure for Parkinson’s, but there are medications and surgeries that could slow progression and improve your symptoms.
Various factors cause Parkinson’s; some people are genetically predisposed to the condition. Others could begin to see symptoms of Parkinson’s as a result of exposure to toxins or environmental hazards like Paraquat.
It’s important to note that genetics is a more likely predictor of Parkinson’s disease than exposure to Paraquat (or any other exposure risk factor). But the environmental exposure might be more likely to trigger the disease in a person who already has a genetic predisposition.
Your likelihood of developing Parkinson’s from environmental factors depends on the amount and frequency of exposure.
Paraquat is only available to commercially licensed users in the U.S., according to the CDC. However, 24 countries have banned the chemical or severely restricted its use. Paraquat is banned in Syria, Cambodia, Slovenia, Denmark, Austria, Finland, Hungary, Kuwait, Switzerland and Sweden. It was withdrawn from the market in Norway in 1981. Other countries, including Chile, Philippines, Colombia, New Zealand, Belize and others have specific restrictions for use.
Links between Parkinson’s disease and Paraquat
The American Parkinson Disease Association conducted research into the link between exposure to Paraquat and the illness.
People who have been exposed to Paraquat were found to be at a higher risk for illness. These people include:
- Farmers, agriculture industry workers
- Those who live in rural areas near farms where Paraquat is used
- People who are exposed to farm animals
- People who drink well water
- People exposed to pesticides
There’s likely a lot of overlap in these categories of people; it makes sense that the farmers are the ones who live closest to the farms in the rural areas and that they’re exposed to both farm animals and pesticides.
If you have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and have been exposed to Paraquat, you might be able to join a lawsuit.
There are currently multi-district litigation (MDL) cases pending related to injuries from Paraquat exposure.
Multi-district litigation is similar to a class action lawsuit in that rather than an individual plaintiff filing a lawsuit, there are a group of plaintiffs who all have similar lawsuits against the same defendant.
In a class action lawsuit, a group of people (called the class) file one claim against a defendant. The case is decided based on the one action, and the damage award is split among the plaintiffs.
MDL is a little different because each plaintiff maintains their own lawsuit, but the plaintiffs are all suing the same defendant. However, because their claims are similar in nature, a small number of plaintiffs’ cases are tried and the outcomes are consolidated applied to everyone in the group.
When many plaintiffs file individual lawsuits against the same defendant, there will be bellwether trials. These cases act as a test that sets forth guidance for how the other plaintiffs’ cases should be handled or how much compensation they should receive.
In other words, when many plaintiffs have similar claims for the same cause of action, the case becomes less about whether or not the defendant is liable and more about how much damages each plaintiff is entitled to receive.
The first bellwether jury trial on Paraquat/Parkinson’s was scheduled to begin in November, 2022. There were 319 lawsuits pending in the Paraquat MDL in December 2021. By January 2022, there were nearly 600 cases. There were 875 cases by March of that year, and more than 1,000 by August. However, the jury trial was moved to July 2023 in order to allow for additional discovery. Plaintiffs continue to file additional lawsuits.
A defendant’s liability in a toxic exposure lawsuit
In any personal injury claim, the plaintiff (injured person) needs to demonstrate that they were harmed as a result of the defendant’s negligence.
A defendant is negligent if it fails to take reasonable care to avoid harm to people to whom it has a duty. In the Paraquat cases, the defendant is the manufacturer of the product. The claim is that the manufacturer knew the dangers of Paraquat and failed to protect people who would be likely to be exposed.
At trial, plaintiffs will need to show that the manufacturer was aware of the pesticide’s danger to humans and failed to use it safely or use a different product that would not be harmful.