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An Arizona man recently filed a new paraquat lawsuit against the manufacturers of the herbicide, including Syngenta AG and Chevron USA, Inc. He claims that after applying paraquat to crops for years, he developed Parkinson’s disease. He seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

The case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, which is where all federally filed paraquat lawsuits were centralized in June 2021.

Plaintiff Claims Long-Term Exposure to Paraquat Led to Parkinson’s Disease

According to his complaint, the plaintiff was repeatedly exposed to and inhaled, ingested, or absorbed paraquat in the course of applying paraquat products on crops during the summer growing season on a 150-acre farm in Shelby County, Iowa. He applied these products between 1969 and 1973.

After this repeated and consistent paraquat exposure, the plaintiff began experiencing neurological injuries consistent with Parkinson’s disease. He was then diagnosed with the disease in 2004. His injuries have continued to progress over time, and he will continue to suffer because of them in the future.

Before the year 2021, the plaintiff claims he did not know of the association between Parkinson’s disease and exposure to paraquat or paraquat products. No doctor or any other person told him that his injuries were or could be caused by the herbicide.

He brings counts of design defects, failure to warn, negligence, and breach of warranties.

Paraquat is Highly Toxic to Plant, Animal, and Human Cells

Paraquat is used in the U.S. to kill broadleaf weeds and grasses before the planting or emergence of more than 100 fields, fruit, vegetable, and plantation crops, to control weeds in orchards, and to desiccate (dry) plants before harvest.

Applicators typically use knapsack sprayers, hand-held sprayers, aircraft (crop dusters), trucks with attached pressurized tanks, and tractor-drawn pressurized tanks to apply paraquat products. Though applicators must be certified in the safe use of the paraquat, it may still be absorbed through small droplets swallowed or inhaled, or by exposure on the skin.

Paraquat is highly toxic to both plants and animals because it causes and contributes to the degeneration and death of living cells through oxidative stress. It starts a chain reaction so that even a single molecule of paraquat can trigger the production of countless destructive molecules that can cause long-term damage.

These properties make Paraquat toxic to dopaminergic neurons as well—those neurons that are targeted in Parkinson’s disease. So effective is the herbicide at causing this damage that scientists use it on laboratory animals to artificially produce conditions that show features characteristic of Parkinson’s disease.

Studies Suggest Long-Term Exposure to Paraquat Increases Risk of Parkinson’s

Several studies have linked exposure to paraquat with an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. In 2018, researchers found that low-level exposure to pesticides like paraquat and maneb disrupted cells in a way that mimicked the effects of mutations known to cause PD. Adding the effects of these chemicals to a predisposition for PD—in individuals at genetic risk for the disease, for instance—increased the risk of disease onset.

In 2019, researchers conducted a systematic review of the literature and found that PD occurrence was 25 percent higher in participants exposed to paraquat. Results from a subgroup analysis also indicated a higher PD frequency in those who were exposed to the herbicide for longer periods.

Those who were exposed to paraquat and later developed Parkinson’s disease may be eligible to file a paraquat lawsuit. Several people have already done so, with that litigation proceeding in the Southern District of Illinois.

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