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Who Is at Risk of Paraquat Exposure?

A client discussing with an attorney about who's at risk for a paraquat exposure.

Commercial agricultural workers are most at risk of paraquat exposure. Although banned in several countries, the EPA approves paraquat for commercial use. Therefore, paraquat poses the most risk to agricultural chemical mixers, loaders, and applicators. Still, because of pesticide drift, children and adults living, working, and going to school near paraquat-treated fields also face a risk of exposure. Direct exposure to paraquat can leave you with organ damage and failure, scarring, and the development of Parkinson’s disease (the result of brain damage). If you develop Parkinson’s disease and suspect you were exposed to paraquat, you may be entitled to damages.

What Is Paraquat?

Paraquat is a toxic herbicide used in commercial agriculture to control grass and weeds and harvest dry drops. In the U.S., farmers apply it to corn, cotton, soybeans, tobacco, wheat, and hay, especially if resistant to Roundup (glyphosate). The Swiss-based Syngenta developed their paraquat formulation, Gramozone, in 1961 and began selling it to U.S. customers through the company Chevron. When purchased, the herbicide is a concentrated liquid. Workers will mix the chemical with water and spray by truck or airplane. 

Who Is at Risk of Paraquat Exposure?

The EPA has not approved any home or residential use of paraquat. Thus, farmers and field workers are most at risk of exposure. Of the 140 cases involving paraquat reported between 1998 to 2014, 113 were work-related exposures. However, a bystander could be exposed in a residential area if near a field sprayed with paraquat. Children going to school near treated fields also have a risk. The EPA refers to these populations as “occupational” and “nonoccupational.”

Occupational Risks

Licensed applicators make up the occupational population most at risk of exposure. Exposures happen when handling paraquat, regardless of current safety standards. The riskiest activities include:

  • Mixing,
  • Spraying,
  • Loading,
  • Cleaning, and
  • Applying paraquat.

Consider all the times workers encounter liquid paraquat when applying it to a field. They must mix the concentrate to the correct concentration, load the tanks on the airplane or truck, spray the herbicide in a broadcasted or directed manner, and clean the machinery. Likewise, flaggers in aerial applications have a high occupational risk. 

Nonoccupational or Bystander Risks

Bystanders are at risk of paraquat exposure because of spray drift from aerial applications. Both over-application or drift from the wind can bring paraquat into residential areas, where it is inhaled and enters the lungs. Ingestion through water contamination is possible. Bystanders also face the risk of indirect skin exposure if within 150 feet of a field’s edge.

The EPA reports that children one to two years old have a higher risk of acute and chronic exposure than the general population (38% and 25% compared to 20% and 6.6%). Children in farming communities who go to school near paraquat-treated fields face the risk of spray drift and inhalation. Further, people exposed in their teen or young adult years are 200 to 600 times more likely to have long-term health effects like Parkinson’s disease. 

What Does Paraquat Exposure Look Like?

Paraquat exposure can affect people in two ways: immediate poisoning and later-developing illness, including Parkinson’s disease. Those in direct contact with the concentrated form of paraquat are most at risk for poisoning. Workers must follow all safety procedures and use the proper equipment when handling paraquat. Regardless, anyone near a field treated with paraquat may risk later health effects.

Paraquat Poisoning

Ingestion is the most common type of paraquat poisoning. In 2013, the California Poison Control System reported at least 12 deaths from accidental ingestion of paraquat from beverage containers. Symptoms of ingesting paraquat include pain and swelling of the mouth and throat, lack of oxygen, and gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea (which may become bloody). Fortunately, the form of paraquat currently marketed in the U.S. contains added blue dye, a pungent odor, and a vomiting agent. However, if you encounter paraquat outside the U.S., it may not have these features. People have easily mistaken the odorless liquid for a beverage like coffee, tea, or water. 

Direct paraquat poisoning can also occur through the skin. Poisoning is likely if the skin exposure is prolonged, involves the concentrated form, or occurs through damaged skin, like a cut or rash. Finally, if it is inhaled, paraquat could cause lung damage. No proven antidote or cure exists for paraquat poisoning, which is likely to result in long-term health impacts.

Later-Developing Illness: Parkinson’s Disease 

When paraquat enters the lungs, it travels throughout the bloodstream to the brain, liver, and kidneys. When the paraquat reaches your major organs, it can cause scarring, dysfunction, and organ failure. In the brain, paraquat crosses the blood-brain barrier and damages neurons, particularly parts of the brain that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine

Incidentally, Parkinson’s disease is associated with low dopamine. When Parkinson’s disease develops, neurons in the substantia nigra area of the brain become impaired or die. This area of the brain is said to control movement. The degeneration paired with low dopamine causes the slow movement and tremors characteristic of Parkinson’s disease. 

Further, many studies in the last decade have found a connection between paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. In one study, individuals exposed to paraquat were 250 times more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s. There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, and its symptoms ordinarily worsen over time.

D’Amore Law Group: Paraquat Lawsuits

When you face a Parkinson’s diagnosis, you may not immediately realize that you have a connection to paraquat. Whether you worked as an agricultural worker or were simply a bystander, you deserve compensation for your exposure. The companies distributing paraquat in the U.S. are aware of the data linking Parkinson’s disease with the herbicide. The experienced trial attorneys at the D’Amore Law Group can help you secure compensation and justice. By speaking out about your exposure, you join the many others working to hold large corporations accountable for their actions. Contact our lawyers today!

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