The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is drawing sharp criticism from the Center for Biological Diversity over a newly-released paraquat assessment, which purportedly ignores the pesticide’s link to Parkinson’s disease.
“A pesticide this toxic has no place near our food or the people who help to grow and harvest it,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The EPA should follow the lead of nearly every other major agricultural country in the world and ban this dangerous stuff for good.”
Paraquat is the active ingredient in Syngenta’s Gramoxone.
The pesticide is currently banned in the European Union and more than 30 other countries, including China and Brazil, because of its extreme toxicity and other health concerns.
Just single sip of paraquat can be fatal. In fact, in the last 20 years, 17 people have died after accidentally drinking the pesticide, while three others were killed when paraquat entered their bodies through the skin and eyes.
Even low doses of paraquat can cause eye damage, kidney or heart failure, lung damage, and liver injury. Multiple studies also suggest that farmers and agriculture workers exposed to paraquat face a significantly increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Despite these risks, the EPA has been reluctant to ban paraquat, and instead only permits certified applicators who’ve undergone specialized training to use the weed killer. In the meantime, the use of paraquat-based herbicides has actually increased by 80% in the United States over the past decade, mainly due to the emergence of “super weeds” that are resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto Roundup.
By law, all EPA-approved pesticides must be reapproved every 15 years.
The agency published a draft of its paraquat human health risk assessment yesterday, which supports reapproval. But according to the Center for Biological Diversity, the assessment actually discounted considerable evidence that occupational exposure to paraquat more than doubles the risk of Parkinson’s disease among farmer and agriculture workers.
The group also noted that a separate environmental analysis suggested approved use of paraquat could expose small mammals like chipmunks and bats to more than 600 times the levels known to cause reproductive harm. The same analysis found that small songbirds are potentially being exposed to more than 50 times the concentration known to cause death.
U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation to ban paraquat in July. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research recently voiced their support for the legislation.
“Parkinson’s costs the U.S. $52 billion each year, with more than $25 billion of that shouldered by government programs including Medicare and Social Security,” said Todd Sherer, PhD, CEO of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. “Banning paraquat will help ease the future burden on those programs, by helping to reduce the number of people who develop Parkinson’s.”