Olfaction, otherwise known as our sense of smell, plays a significant role in our daily lives. Our olfactory sense lets us smell fresh baked cookies or an ocean breeze and helps us enjoy the many different flavors of our food. A damaged sense of smell can be incredibly depressing and disruptive. It can hinder our enjoyment of eating and drinking and lead to medical problems. An impaired sense of smell also presents dangers, like the inability to detect leaking gas or rotten food.
Recent studies have connected paraquat, a common weed killer used across the United States as a herbicide, to sense-of-smell issues. Paraquat has become an increasingly common herbicide choice as plant resistance to other herbicides grows. Unfortunately, as the weed killer’s use grows, so does the number of people stricken by paraquat poisoning and serious disruptions to their sense of smell.
Paraquat: A Highly Regulated Toxic Chemical
Just what is paraquat? First introduced for commercial purposes in 1961, paraquat dichloride is an organic salt compound used in some herbicide products. Its popularity is partly due to its nonselective quick-acting properties that kill weeds on contact.
The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) controls paraquat. As a highly regulated, “restricted-use,” toxic chemical, an applicator may use it only if they have a license. Licensed applicators primarily use liquid paraquat to kill a wide range of weeds and grasses in agricultural and non-agricultural settings. The chemical is also used to desiccate crops, like cotton, before harvest.
Although 35 countries, including Canada, banned paraquat over concerns about its harmful health effects, the U.S. merely restricts its use. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) acknowledges that paraquat is significantly more dangerous than other herbicides and pesticides. And while the EPA identifies paraquat as highly toxic to humans, it is still widely used as a chemical pesticide nationally.
Paraquat Disrupts Sense of Smell
EPA studies found that paraquat is toxic to humans. Scientists have already linked inhaling or ingesting paraquat to a higher incidence of Parkinson’s disease.
But recently, the journal Toxicological Sciences published a paper showing that prolonged, low-level chronic inhalation of paraquat caused sense-of-smell disruptions in male mice and may also pose an olfactory threat to people. Results show that in mice, chronic paraquat inhalation significantly burdens all brain regions but that the olfactory portion suffers the highest impact.
The study also found that sense-of-smell impairments persist for months following the last exposure to paraquat. These results establish that extensive, low-level exposure to paraquat via the nasal passage causes stress to the sense-of-smell portion of the brain, resulting in olfactory disruption, which may also have implications for heightened Parkinson’s disease risk.
Despite its dangers, paraquat application continues to be widespread. In fact, paraquat use in the United States has increased in recent years, with over 15 million pounds of active ingredient used in 2017, a 10-year high.
Paraquat is so toxic that even an accidental sip can be fatal. Because paraquat can kill when consumed, the EPA mandates that paraquat be dyed blue to keep people from confusing it with beverages. Paraquat is also formulated with an intentionally sharp odor to inhibit ingestion. And it includes an added agent that causes vomiting should humans still accidentally consume it.
The EPA maintains that paraquat exposure primarily occurs through loading, mixing, or applying the herbicide or after its application. Licensed applicators of paraquat are at the greatest risk for exposure.
Paraquat exposure in doses that lead to poisoning most commonly occurs through direct ingestion. However, individuals may also encounter paraquat through:
- Inhaling or ingesting paraquat after applicators spray it on weeds or crops;
- Touching paraquat after applicators spray it on plants;
- Coming into contact with it after its Illegal use in home gardens, schools, recreational parks, golf courses, or playgrounds;
- Exposure due to runoff, overspray, or drift after applicators spray it on another property; and
- Crop-duster overspray.
The severity of paraquat poisoning depends on the amount, route, duration of exposure, and the person’s health condition when they are exposed. Overall, paraquat poisoning is more likely to occur during prolonged skin exposure, involves a concentrated version of paraquat, or touches broken skin.
If you or a loved one touch or ingest paraquat, seek medical assistance immediately. Not only can consuming paraquat can be fatal, but even just small amounts of skin or eye contact can have serious lasting effects.
Paraquat Manufacturers and Brand Names
There are no known antidotes to counter the harmful effects of inhaling or ingesting paraquat. But if you are a groundskeeper or work in agriculture, forestry, or another field where you might encounter paraquat, knowing when you may be exposed can help minimize your exposure and keep you safer.
Paraquat manufacturers include:
- Chevron Chemical Company,
- Drexel Chemical Company,
- Adama Group,
- Altitude Crop Innovations,
- United Phosphorus,
- Helm Agro,
- Sinon USA, and
- Invictus Crop Care.
Checking the backs of applicators and containers may help you spot one of these manufacturers.
Paraquat is sold under numerous brand names, but it is commonly marketed under the trade name Gramoxone. Other herbicides containing paraquat include:
- Para-Shot 3.0,
- Helmquat 3SL,
- Cyclone SL 2.0,
- Ortho Paraquat CL,
- AH 501, and
- Bai Cao Ku.
If you have been in contact with one of these brands or manufacturers and have questions about your rights and possible remedies, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help.
D’Amore Law Group Will Fight for You
People exposed to brands of herbicide containing paraquat may be at increased risk of sense-of-smell impairment and other health issues. If you think you have been exposed to paraquat, contact the D’Amore Law Group. Our personal injury attorneys represent clients harmed by toxic chemicals and hazardous environments and have been helping catastrophic injury victims and their families for over a quarter of a century. If you are entitled to damages, we will do everything we can to attain the justice you deserve.