How Long Have the Makers of Paraquat Known It Causes Parkinson’s?

September 4, 2021 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
How Long Have the Makers of Paraquat Known It Causes Parkinson’s? Well over 100 cases against the manufacturers of the herbicide paraquat are moving forward, alleging that internal documents from the companies currently involved in manufacturing the popular pesticide and their successors have long known that the product was dangerous. While many of these documents focus around the knowledge of the hazards facing consumers who accidentally or deliberately ingested the poison, there is also evidence to suggest that the companies also knew about the link between paraquat and Parkinson's disease and—like the hazards of ingestion—took measures to cover up the issue. In June, a notice of settlement indicated that plaintiffs in 16 cases in California settled with defendants Syngenta and Chevron. How long have these companies known about the link between their product and the risk of Parkinson's? At least since 2011, but likely longer. In 2011, a large study in the U.S. confirmed the link, and Syngenta mentioned the data from that study on its website. However, Syngenta's predecessors have known about extreme dangers linked to the product almost since its inception. If you were exposed to paraquat and are now suffering from Parkinson's disease, it is not too late to file a claim seeking compensation for the expenses and impacts of your illness. Additional multi-district litigation actions are underway, and the experienced product liability attorneys from Dolman Law Group are ready to assist you with your claim. We have a track record of winning multi-million dollar cases, national reach, and extensive resources to ensure that your case gets the attention and advocacy you deserve.

The Hazards of Paraquat

Paraquat is a popular herbicide used in the U.S. since the 1960s to effectively clear fields of unwanted leaves and grasses. However, beginning in the late 1960s, complaints began coming in that individuals were accidentally or deliberately ingesting the poison and dying of organ failure. While many countries banned the product in the following decades—including in Switzerland, where the product is manufactured under the Gramoxone brand, and was banned since 1989—the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency simply restricted its use, requiring those who apply the product to be certified. The EPA also attempted to warn individuals of the risk of death from accidental ingestion by informing users that “one sip can kill.” In 2016, after stating for several years that there is not enough evidence to suggest a link between paraquat and Parkinson's, the EPA made a discreet regulatory filing. It noted that “There is a large body of epidemiology data on paraquat dichloride use and Parkinson's disease." At the time, the agency weighed whether to continue allowing the sale of paraquat in the U.S. In 2019, the agency announced that evidence of the link between the herbicide and the disease was insufficient to warrant any changes in the product's availability in the U.S.

About Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that disrupts movement in the body. Symptoms of the disorder start gradually, often beginning with a slight tremor in one hand, a reduction in facial expressions, and not moving the arms when one walks. As the disease progresses, the body's movements become stiff, tremors more frequent, and speech slurred. While there are medications that can help relieve some symptoms of Parkinson's disease, there is no cure for the condition. Parkinson's is the result of neurons in the brain breaking down and dying. While a small percentage of Parkinson's sufferers inherited their condition through genetics, while others acquire the condition from exposure to toxins like herbicides.

How Paraquat Exposure Increases Parkinson's Risk

Prolonged, low-level exposure to the herbicide, such as that experienced by individuals applying the poison year after year to their crops or living near fields where farmers regularly applied the poison, kills off dopamine-producing neurons in the brain. The loss of these neurons drives Parkinson's progression.

Repeated Studies Confirm Parkinson's Risk With Paraquat Use

A 2011 study, carried out by the National Institutes of Health and other researchers from around the world, tracked more than 80,000 farmers and their spouses, as well as other people who applied pesticides throughout Iowa and North Carolina. The study drew on past research from a U.S. agriculture health study. Researchers identified 115 people from these groups who had developed Parkinson's and collected information from 110 of them about the pesticides they used. While the 2011 study was one of the largest, it certainly was not one of the first. A decade earlier, in 2001, Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest insurers and health providers in the U.S., also studied the link.

Did Syngenta Know of the Risk?

Syngenta, which was since acquired by the China National Chemical Corporation, referred to the data collected in the 2011 study on its website, in which it wrongfully stated that the study only found 115 cases of Parkinson's among the 80,000 people studied. That would mean a lower risk of Parkinson's for those exposed to paraquat compared to the general population in the U.S. The company stated that it went to “significant lengths” to obtain the data for the study “to gain as complete an understanding as possible of the study in the pursuit of scientific rigor.” Syngenta also took issue with the study. Company representatives stated that the researchers actively sought out the individuals they studied rather than voluntary enrollment. Syngenta could have considered more than 20 years of studies about Parkinson's disease after exposure to paraquat.

Why Evidence About a Suicide Risk Matters to Current Lawsuits

The increased risk of Parkinson's disease posed by prolonged, regular exposure to paraquat is not the first serious issue its manufacturers have experienced. Within a few years after paraquat became available for consumer use, an increasing number of complaints entailed accidental ingestion or even suicide attempts involving paraquat consumption. Internal documents reveal that Syngenta added an emetic to the herbicide to induce vomiting if someone accidentally or intentionally ingests the poison. The concept was that the individual would vomit the poison out of their system before the toxins had the opportunity to enter the bloodstream. However, a long-time toxicologist who spent 22 years working for Syngenta and its predecessors noted that the amount of the emetic used in Gramoxone was so small that it would not induce vomiting in most individuals. This scientist stated that the amount of emetic used relied on a fabricated paper that suggested that humans were ten times more sensitive to the emetic than any of the three tested animal species. Although the scientist blew the whistle on this false information starting in 1990 through a series of memos to his superiors, the company continues to use the same emetic concentration. Additional documents show that the company had numerous opportunities over the years to change the formulation of the product to make it less lethal, change the product to solid granules instead of a sprayed liquids, or promote safer products that ICI, Syngenta's predecessor, already started marketing. ICI also conducted its own survey, which revealed in the early 1980s that the death rate for individuals who were poisoned by Gramoxone was 78 percent, while those poisoned by granulated herbicides containing similar ingredients was 16 percent. The company determined that changing to granules would require it to build or purchase cost-prohibitive new manufacturing plants. They also determined that diluting the product—as was also suggested—added to packaging and production costs. Company documents note that in the 1980s and 90s, ICI's strategy was not to proactively change its formula to increase the survival rate after accidental ingestion, but rather to keep less potent solutions on the shelf for use in countries threatening to ban the chemical. Attorneys representing individuals in Parkinson's paraquat lawsuits discovered this scientist's concerns after he went public about the issue in 2018, and he allowed them to see the documents he had gathered. Those attorneys are now arguing that the scientist's testimony and the Syngenta documents about the ineffective use of emetics should be considered in the current lawsuits because it speaks to the lengths these companies will go to keep paraquat on the market. The United States could have banned the product in the 1970s, but the company claimed it was making it safer with the addition of the emetic, allowing its availability—and danger—to continue.

Why File a Lawsuit?

If doctors diagnosed you with Parkinson's after prolonged exposure to paraquat, there are several reasons to consider filing a claim, including:
  • Individuals with Parkinson's pay huge costs, particularly as the disease progresses. These include loss of earning capacity due to having to leave the workforce earlier than intended, the burden on caregivers—who are often family members—as the sufferer loses the ability to complete personal care tasks independently, and the increased cost of medical care and medications used to treat the condition.
  • The companies making paraquat available to consumers knew for years that they put people in harm's way but continued to produce and sell it anyway, and convinced consumers—and even the Environmental Protection Agency—that the product did not pose unreasonable risks when used as labeled. In a statement, a Syngenta representative stated that the issue involving poisoning through ingestion of the product was that the focus should be on mental health issues, not paraquat. Filing a lawsuit is a way to hold these companies accountable for hiding information and telling lies for profit.
  • Increase awareness. Paraquat is still very widely used in the U.S., despite its restricted use status that requires applicators to complete training and obtain certification. The product remains one of the main herbicides used on certain U.S. crops such as soybeans. The growing number of lawsuits by individuals who were exposed and now have Parkinson's Disease is helping spread awareness, which could ultimately prevent additional individuals from acquiring Parkinson's through paraquat exposure.

Do You Need an Attorney to File a Paraquat Lawsuit?

The paraquat lawsuits consolidate into multi-district litigations (MDLs), where cases with factually similar claims consolidate during the discovery phase to share the same evidence and information. After the discovery process has been complete, the cases return to their original jurisdictions and—if a settlement agreement has not been reached—the lawsuits proceed individually. This method ensures equality in the ability of each plaintiff to obtain the same information and have access to the same evidence and witnesses while helping to save on the costs of the case and relieve the burden on various courts. However, MDLs add additional layers of complexity to the process, and you need an attorney on your side with experience winning large and complex cases. Look for attorneys who have worked on many MDLs, know the process, and will provide you with a free case evaluation to determine the strength of your case. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 3375 (833) 606-DRUG [3784]


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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