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Daily News Blog

16
Apr

California Bill Would Ban Deadly Weedkiller, Paraquat, Linked to Parkinson’s Disease in Face of EPA Inaction

Citing health issues associated with its use and federal inaction, paraquat would be universally banned by the end of 2025 through proposed legislation.

(Beyond Pesticides, April 16, 2024) Citing serious health issues associated with its use, including Parkinson’s disease, and inaction by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the weed killer paraquat would be banned through legislation introduced in the California Assembly (AB 1963). Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Burbank), in the Assembly’s leadership, chair of the bicameral Environmental Caucus, and a self-described “steadfast advocate for the environment [and] sustainable communities,” introduced the legislation to phase out and ban the use of paraquat across all uses, including agriculture, by the end of 2025. The introduction of this bill follows a long history of scientific documentation of the pesticide’s hazards, fits and starts in the regulatory process, and previous efforts to ban the herbicide through legislative action. In 2018, U.S. Representative Nydia Velasquez (D-NY) introduced legislation (Protect Against Paraquat Act) to ban paraquat.

In a 1986 factsheet, Beyond Pesticides wrote, “In mammals, paraquat attacks the epithelial tissues (the skin, nails, the cornea of the eye, and the linings of the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract). There have also been reports of damage to the heart muscle and to nerves. It is easily absorbed through the skin as well as orally [and through inhalation]. Paraquat causes specific damage to the lungs, where residues concentrate in a particular lung cell, the pneumonocyte. This leads to the formation of large amounts of non-functional scar tissue so that poisoning victims suffocate to death. Paraquat is a lung carcinogen in rats.” A 2005 study in Toxicological Sciences was able to “reproduce features of Parkinson’s disease (PD) in experimental animals.” And studies continued to replicate findings associating paraquat with Parkinson’s disease, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continued to reject the need for action. Paraquat was banned in the European Union in 2007, following its prohibition years earlier in 13 countries, including Sweden, Denmark, and Austria.

In the U.S., paraquat is currently a restricted-use pesticide (meaning it can only be applied by certified applicators or those working under their on- or off-site supervision) and banned on golf courses. There is established and mounting evidence of links between minimal exposure and various adverse health impacts for humans and wildlife. This has mobilized advocates within and outside of California for more robust action by the federal government to serve the public interest.

In 2018, EPA downplayed the connection between exposure to paraquat and the development of Parkinson’s disease, per registration review documents released by the agency. But, Assemblymember Friedman, in a press release on the day the legislation was introduced, said, “We cannot afford to ignore decades of mounting evidence linking paraquat exposure to Parkinson’s disease, non-Hodgkin, and childhood leukemia.” She continued: “In 2021, the latest year for which data are publicly available, just over 430,000 pounds were applied in California, primarily in Kern, Kings, Fresno, Merced, and Tulare counties. The herbicide is extremely toxic to humans, with low doses causing death, and it has been linked to increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.”

Beyond Pesticides continues to track the latest scientific literature on adverse health impacts of paraquat. Within all the single-pollutant models employed in a 2022 study published in Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers found a linkage between paraquat dichloride and thyroid cancer. A different study published that same year in Independent determined the toxic impacts of paraquat on bird embryos, including the Japanese quail, mallards, bobwhite quail, and ring-necked pheasant. Over 60 countries have already banned the use, production, and sale of paraquat, including China, where the pesticide was first developed. EPA’s actions, or inaction as some advocates would argue, on recognizing the scientific literature on paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s disease represent a failure of EPA to take a proactive approach in ending the continued exposure and health impacts of the toxic herbicide to chemically sensitive populations. According to the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs’ guidelines on paraquat and diquat, these ammonium herbicides are life-threatening in toxic doses and hold the potential to “impact GI tract, kidney, lungs liver, heart, and other organs.” Specifically regarding paraquat, “pulmonary fibrosis is the usual cause of death in paraquat poisoning.”

In 2019, EPA released, “Systematic Review of the Literature to Evaluate the Relationship between Paraquat Dichloride Exposure and Parkinson’s Disease.” Advocates, following this ruling, lambasted the EPA for its dismissal of the linkage between Paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s Disease, despite a growing body of literature between 2009 and 2019 and, given that “[a]n EPA environmental review conducted as part of the reregistration process found evidence of significant reproductive harm to small mammals, and determined that songbirds may be exposed to levels well beyond lethal concentrations known to cause death. Threats to mammals and songbirds are particularly concerning considering significant declines in these animal groups.”

At that time, Beyond Pesticides submitted comments and concluded: “Since the agency risk assessments are intended to support Agency risk management review, risk management recommendations are not provided in its draft risk assessments. The many risk concerns and uncertainties (lack of data) identified in both the human health and ecological risk assessments makes it unconscionable to allow continued use of such a dangerous pesticide as paraquat. A restricted use label will do little to allay the ecological risk concerns enumerated or adequately protect persons in vicinity of treatments or in harvest and post-harvest activities. Taken together with the clear inability of the agency to preclude potential for Parkinson’s disease, it is recommended that the use of paraquat should be immediately suspended if not outright cancelled as it is in the EU and several other countries.”

On alternatives to paraquat, Beyond Pesticides stated, “The agency asserts that there are no direct alternatives to paraquat, however, several alternatives, chemical and non-chemical, are widely available. Given the availability of alternative pest management practices that incorporate alternative cultural practices and/or less toxic products, including other registered pesticides, the agency has a statutory duty to revoke all registrations of the paraquat under its unreasonable adverse effects standard in FIFRA. The risks and uncertainties identified by the agency in its assessments and the independent scientific literature are not reasonable in light of the availability of less toxic alternatives and cultural practices. To refute a rebuttable presumption against paraquat registration, the many data gaps listed previously would need to be fulfilled and reveal opposing evidence to the existing adverse effect data.”

In late January 2024, EPA released a report, “Preliminary Supplemental Consideration of Certain Issues in Support of its Interim Registration Review Decision for Paraquat.” According to the interim report, “The Agency prepared several documents to support its 2021 interim registration review decision for paraquat and attempted ‘to connect the dots’ of the risk-benefit information contained in its support documents in the Paraquat ID.” The results of this interim report, specifically regarding linkage to Parkinson’s Disease and other health risks associated with chronic exposure to paraquat, highlight the flaws in EPA’s approach to risk assessment and opportunities to incorporate additional sources of sound science in the final report in January 2025. For example, “EPA intends to consider [additional studies] as part of the next steps in this process. First, EPA recognizes that the Michael J. Fox Foundation and Earthjustice submitted letters to EPA on August 4, 2023, along with information that they believe is relevant to EPA’s consideration of paraquat’s health risks. This information consisted of approximately 90 submissions including scientific studies, as well as testimony filed in an ongoing state lawsuit concerning paraquat. EPA has included these documents in the docket for paraquat at EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0855-0317 and EPA-HQ-OPP2011-0855-0313. While the Agency has started reviewing that material, it was unable to complete that review prior to the issuance of this document. [As a result, this document does not reflect the Agency’s review of any of those materials.] Second, new information on paraquat vapor pressure was submitted on January 18, 2024, which may impact the Agency’s volatilization analysis. Due to the late submission of that data, EPA has not incorporated that information into this document. Therefore, EPA intends to address that material along with any other significant information it receives during the public comment period and incorporate its consideration of those materials into any final document(s) issued by January 17, 2025.” Advocates found it surprising that the EPA was not able to review studies submitted by the Michael J. Fox Foundation and Earthjustice even though the agency had more than several months for review. Beyond Pesticides will continue to track updates to this upcoming public comment period to insert new studies and data points for the EPA to include in their final report.  

In April 2024, Beyond Pesticides’ comments on the Paraquat Interim Registration Review stated, “EPA failed to assess a common mechanism of toxicity for PQ and any other substance in its review for the ID, erroneously concluding that PQ does not have a common mechanism of toxicity or combined toxic action with other substances that may interact and potentiate its action.” The comments address the mandates under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act and Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), stating that the agency failed to meet its mandate to obtain proof that paraquat “unequivocally does not cause or contribute to Parkinson’s Disease” and to assess paraquat endocrinological risk through FQPA’s Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, respectively. Additionally, the comments cite EPA’s failure to adequately review and incorporate the breadth of studies pointing to a relationship between Parkinson’s Disease and paraquat exposure; failure within its ecological risk assessment to consider risks to endangered wildlife and subsequent ecosystem balance concerns; and failure in its risk-benefit analysis to fully consider the risks of paraquat exposure

Beyond Pesticides and advocates around the nation take the position that the failed regulation, and subsequent harm, caused by paraquat is but one representation of a failed regulatory system that can and should do more to eliminate the use of toxic petrochemical-based pesticides. The convergence of crosscutting crises of health threats, biodiversity collapse, and the climate emergency stems from continued reliance on fossil fuels and petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers, which perpetuate the harms of greenhouse gas emissions. These crises are causing ecosystem fragmentation and failure, and public health crises that undermine the nutritional integrity of the food supply and the scientific integrity the public relies on for safety and well-being. After decades of working with farmworkers and farmers who face the brunt of toxic pesticide exposure, Beyond Pesticides echoes the call for advocates across the nation to expand and strengthen organic land management principles to move beyond the existing product substitution framework that leads to the continuous use of toxic pesticides. We have engaged our members with actions to call for EPA to improve its scientific integrity after criticism by the Inspector General and whistleblowers. For more information on the adverse health impacts of paraquat, see its entries in the Gateway on Pesticide Hazards and Safe Pest Management and Pesticide-Induced Disease Database.

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

Source: Mother Jones

 

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One Response to “California Bill Would Ban Deadly Weedkiller, Paraquat, Linked to Parkinson’s Disease in Face of EPA Inaction”

  1. 1
    Yvonne Fisher Says:

    Hello,
    I urge you to ban the hazardous chemical Paraquat so that our health is protected from Parkinsons disease.
    Thank you for making sure this goes through.
    Kind regards,
    Yvonne

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