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Daily News Blog

12
Oct

EPA Asks Federal Court to Allow Reconsideration of Its Decision to Permit Paraquat’s Continued Use

(Beyond Pesticides, October 12, 2022) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is asking a federal court for permission to go back and reconsider its decision to reapprove use of the highly hazardous herbicide paraquat, according to a filing submitted by the agency late last month. Advocates see the move as encouraging, since meaningful EPA action on this Parkinson’s-linked chemical is long overdue. Last year, advocates condemned the Biden Administration for its reapproval of the weed killer with fewer protections than those proposed by the Trump Administration, marking a deeply concerning sign for pesticide reform campaigners looking to the administration for positive change.

EPA’s request is the result of a legal challenge brought by the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Earthjustice, Farmworker Association of Florida, Pesticide Action Network, and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.  The groups argued that the agency’s decision to reregister paraquat was not legal based on substantial evidence that the chemical poses unreasonable risks to human health and the environment.

While EPA made its initial decision to reapprove paraquat in the late days of the Trump Administration, it was under the Biden Administration that the agency reversed a proposed ban on aerial use, permitting broad-scale spraying of this dangerous chemical. According to reporting from EENews, the agency used information provided by an industry umbrella group dubbed the Agricultural Handler Exposure Task Force, a consortium of chemical companies that includes BASF, Bayer Monsanto, Corteva, FMC, and Syngenta/ChemChina, the primary producer of paraquat. Data produced by this cabal of chemical companies appeared to show that EPA miscalculated risks to workers, and as a result, aerial spray campaigns must be permitted. EPA’s decision to accept industry positions stands in sharp contrast to its interaction with farmworker, health, and environmental campaigners. Over 50 groups signed on to oppose the reregistration of paraquat, but were provided no substantive response from the agency.

Paraquat is the most dangerous herbicide still on the market. As the agency readily admits, “One small sip [of paraquat] can be fatal, and there is no antidote.” In addition to its high acute toxicity, it also presents a range of chronic concerns, including cancer, damage to the reproductive system and organs like the kidney and liver. It also poses hazards to birds and bees, and is prone to leaching into groundwater, where it disrupts the stability of aquatic ecosystems.

Standing out among the wide range of impacts that make clear this chemical poses unreasonable risks are its neurotoxic effects. Inhalation of low doses can disrupt one’s sense of smell, and past research has found the chemical can cause damage to the lungs of farmers who apply it. Data is increasingly showing that cumulative exposures over one’s life increases risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, and other factors such as genetics, and exposure to other chemicals further elevates the threat. Recent studies have even found that one’s zip code and proximity to paraquat’s use in farm field is likely playing a role in an individual’s Parkinson’s Disease risk. Strong links to this chronic condition are incredibly concerning given emerging evidence of a Parkinson’s pandemic, predicting that rates of the disease will double between now and 2040.

In addition to health and environmental risks from the use of paraquat are growing legal troubles for its primary manufacturer Syngenta, a Switzerland based company that was purchased by the Chinese National Chemical Corporation (ChemChina) in 2016. Mounting lawsuits against Syngenta/ChemChina were consolidated and are set to begin jury trials next year for farmworkers and other individuals who worked with paraquat and are now suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Plaintiffs in the suit claim “that manufacturers and sellers of paraquat deliberately concealed the dangers of paraquat for at least four decades, hid evidence of its dangers from government safety agencies, and knowingly unleased a product they knew caused Parkinson’s Disease on the public.”

Advocates are uncertain how far EPA will go in restricting paraquat, and underline that more public pressure is needed for EPA to act meaningfully. Other recent decisions by the agency on dangerous herbicides dicamba and glyphosate are not cause for much hope. After acknowledging a range of problems with dicamba formulations registered for genetically engineered crops, including an Office of Inspector General Report, a court case that noted the chemical “would tear the social fabric of farming communities” and completely vacated the registration, and a mea culpa from EPA’s acting assistant administrator that “political interference sometimes compromised the integrity of our science,” EPA went ahead and reregistered dicamba formulations with very few additional restrictions. On glyphosate, despite a range of high profile lawsuits, and strong links to cancer, the agency waited for a federal court to void its registration.

Perhaps EPA is trying to get ahead of the curve with paraquat. Rather than wait for a court decision and completely fail to hit mandated deadlines as the agency has done with glyphosate, EPA is requesting the ability to review paraquat at its leisure, with no deadline for a decision. Yet, experience with the agency shows that remanding “without vacatur” – (i.e., without removing paraquat from commerce) permits pesticide manufacturers to continue to sell their products without any new, protective regulatory measures.

It is not acceptable to need to use the court system to force EPA to conduct the work it should always be doing to protect health and the environment. For too long, agrichemical companies have driven EPA to make decisions at the behest of their overpaid executives over the health and well-being of the general public. Join us in urging the Biden EPA to stand up to pesticide manufacturers by holding them accountable for the dangers associated with their products.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Ninth Circuit Court Filing, AboutLawsuits.com.

 

 

 

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One Response to “EPA Asks Federal Court to Allow Reconsideration of Its Decision to Permit Paraquat’s Continued Use”

  1. 1
    Jo Jones Says:

    Ban Paraquat! It is poison!

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