Farm-worker advocacy groups, along with health and environmental organizations, told the Ninth Circuit that the U.S. EPA unlawfully approved paraquat despite serious concerns that it may cause Parkinson’s, other diseases, and it can even cause death.
“Unreasonable Adverse Effects”Farmworker Justice, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, and other citizens’ groups argued before the appeals court this week that EPA’s registration of paraquat violates the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. The petitioners said the issue should be remanded for further consideration. They further argued that the law requires the U.S. government to establish that pesticides and herbicides won’t cause “unreasonable adverse effects” to human health or the environment.
The petitioners said the EPA fell far shy of fulfilling that standard. The U.S. government repeatedly understated paraquat’s adverse effects, they said, and failed to address the serious risks. They said the EPA misinterprets its own evidence to dismiss the link between paraquat and Parkinson’s disease. In addition, they said EPA fails to consider people living near, or working in, fields poisoned with paraquat.
The petitioners said:
“Of all the chemicals used to kill weeds and to dry out crops for harvest, paraquat is one of the most dangerous to farmworkers and agricultural communities. One single sip can kill, yet millions of pounds are sprayed on U.S. cropland each year, causing Parkinson’s disease, lung and kidney damage, and, when paraquat is ingested, death.”
Paraquat litigation has recently accelerated. A multi district litigation court has been set up in Illinois, naming Defendants Syngenta AG and Chevron Corp. The plaintiffs in the MDL allege that they developed Parkinson’s disease after several years of paraquat pesticide exposure. (“Herbicide” is a euphemism for pesticide; the EPA considers herbicides to be pesticides) Claimants further allege that the companies sold the weed-killing chemicals despite knowing they cause disease. Syngenta is also an intervenor in the Ninth Circuit dispute over paraquat.
EPA Approval triggered Action
EPA approval to extend paraquat use for several more years triggered the groups’ action. In July 2021, the EPA issued an interim registration review decision to allow paraquat use for 15 more years. Paraquat is sold in the U.S. as a solution of varying strengths. The poison’s use doubled between 2013 and 2018. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, paraquat use has reached 10 million pounds a year. It’s most often used on soybeans and cotton, in orchards and on grapes, in pastures on hay, and to poison corn.
The group addressing the Ninth Circuit alleges that the EPA allowed paraquat use to continue despite knowing the risks. It also says paraquat’s risks outweigh its potential benefits and that EPA’s decision failed to consider the magnitude of paraquat’s unaddressed risks and costs to farmworkers and agricultural communities.
Paraquat has received attention from some federal lawmakers, including Senator Cory Booker. The New Jersey democrat introduced a bill in November 2021 that would ban the U.S. use of some pesticides, including paraquat. The bill parallels European Union standards that ban paraquat and other toxic pesticides.
The case is California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation et al. v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency et al., case number 21-71287, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Paraquat lawsuits are also pending in civil courts for people who allege that paraquat exposure caused them to develop Parkinson’s disease.