From corn to soybeans to cotton, the U.S. is an agricultural juggernaut. However, producing these goods can come at a price. The popular herbicide Paraquat, used to protect these plants from invasive weeds, has also been linked to several significant and traumatic health conditions. Paraquat is marketed as a weed killer, but more evidence is showing that its effects are more widespread than that, and weeds aren’t the only things it targets.
Those who have been exposed to this herbicide and then suffered a serious health complication may be entitled to compensation for their medical costs and suffering. How do you know if Paraquat caused your illness? Talk to one of our experienced and skilled attorneys for more information. We can help you get to the bottom of your illness and talk about your legal options for seeking compensation.
What is Paraquat?
Paraquat is a highly toxic chemical that is predominantly used as an herbicide or weed killer. The Environmental Protection Agency lists Paraquat, also known as Gramoxone, as one of the most widely used chemical herbicides in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that, while effective for the control of weeds and grass, its use is restricted, and it is only available to commercially licensed professionals because of its toxicity.
What is Paraquat Used For?
Paraquat was first discovered back in 1882 but did not become commercially popular and readily available until the 1960s. By the 1970s, the United States government had begun using the herbicide on marijuana fields in Mexico as part of an increased effort to stamp out the illegal drug trade. Nixon’s “Operation Clearview” attempted to stop the drug at its source by providing the Mexican government with the means to spray fields of marijuana and poppy plants with the chemical Paraquat. Unfortunately, living plants were still harvested, contaminated with the odorless and colorless herbicide, and shipped North anyway, contaminating anyone who came into contact with the plant or ended up smoking it.
The use of Paraquat continued into the 1980s as the Regan Administration used it for the spraying of marijuana crops in the U.S. state of Georgia. Lawsuits stopped this practice until 1988. Finally, by the early 1990s, the federal government terminated the use of Paraquat in drug fields. However, it remains an inexpensive and popular herbicide in the United States and across the globe.
Although it is primarily used as a weed killer, this toxic substance kills indiscriminately. An impact statement prepared for the Environmental Protection Agency has found that Paraquat is toxic to fish and marine life, birds, bees, mammals such as rats and dogs, as well as humans.
How Have People Been Exposed?
Humans can be exposed to Paraquat in a variety of different ways. In the 60s and 70s, those that smoked marijuana from fields sprayed with Paraquat were at risk of exposing their lungs to the toxic herbicide. One study conducted in 1978 found that 21 percent of the marijuana samples they tested were found to be contaminated with the herbicide.
Today the most common causes of Paraquat exposure come from swallowing the chemical, prolonged contact with the skin, or inhalation. Victims may be exposed to the toxic effects of the herbicide if the chemical directly enters the body through a cut, scrape, sore, or rash. Constant skin contact with the substance may also be the result of wearing clothing contaminated with the chemical for prolonged periods of time. This can happen if a worker sprays a field with Paraquat, the spray gets on their clothing, and this clothing is worn all day. Multiply that by the number of days an employee uses the chemical every year, and it creates a recipe for disaster.
The same can be said for the inhalation of the herbicide. Workers that constantly spray fields or crops can easily inhale the airborne droplets of Paraquat, exposing them to the herbicide’s toxic effects. Those living near fields that are treated with Paraquat are also at risk for exposure, either through direct contact with the skin or inhalation. While skin contact and inhalation are more common but indirect methods of contamination, it should be noted that directly swallowing the substance can be almost immediately fatal. One small sip of the substance can result in death while eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the herbicide can cause acute poisoning.
United States Geological Survey maps estimated the annual use of Paraquat in agricultural settings. In 2017, Texas and California still heavily relied on the herbicide. Kansas, Georgia, and much of the Southern United States also used the chemical. Soybean crops and cotton are the agricultural products that are treated with the herbicide most often. USGS data also shows that despite the mounting evidence of the significant health and environmental impacts of the chemical, it is more widely used today than ever.
Immediate Symptoms of Paraquat Exposure
Several serious symptoms appear immediately after acute exposure to Paraquat. Ingesting the liquid can result in pain, burning, and swelling of the mouth and throat. Once the herbicide reaches the stomach, an individual can experience severe nausea, vomiting, pain, and diarrhea, which can become bloody because of the internal trauma the chemical can cause. Other acute symptoms of Paraquat exposure that can manifest within several days to weeks include:
- Heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
- Scarring of the lungs
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle weakness
- Pulmonary edema
- Respiratory distress
Side Effects of Chronic Paraquat Exposure
Recently, more studies are shedding light on the devastating long-term impact of Paraquat exposure. A 2011 study linked Paraquat with an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. Similarly, the Agricultural Health Study also found a link between the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease with chronic exposure to Paraquat.
Paraquat works by breaking the bonds of oxygen atoms, freeing them from the molecules of living cells. Those cells are essentially destroyed on a molecular level, resulting in the eventual death of the plant. It is surmised that when mammals are exposed to Paraquat, it damages an area of the brain called the substantia nigra, pars compacta. This can lead to a reduction in the number of critical dopamine-creating cells. One of the tell-tale signs of Parkinson’s disease is the reduction of these same dopamine-creating cells. Dopamine is vital to the human body because it is one of the most significant compounds used for communication inside the human body, transmitting messages to and from the brain and all other parts of the body.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative condition that impacts the brain and nervous system. Symptoms may begin very gradually and include slight tremors, slurred speech, or a change in the way a person walks or swings their arms. Over time, the progression of the disease becomes markedly worse and can result in slowed movements, rigid muscles, and loss of balance. Eventually, a victim may lose their ability to control automatic movements and fine motor skills, including blinking, have difficulty with bowel and bladder control and experience more severe tremors. Eventually, an individual with Parkinson’s disease can lose their ability to walk or speak, may become bed-ridden, and can experience hallucinations or delusions. While some medications can be used to help control certain symptoms of the disease, its progression cannot be stopped, and there is currently no cure.
In addition to the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, other long-term effects of Paraquat exposure may include:
- Kidney failure
- Lung scarring
- Heart failure
- Esophageal strictures or scaring
These medical conditions can significantly alter a victim’s quality of life, life expectancy, and financial ability to pay for continued treatment for their medical condition. Paraquat toxicity is becoming more widely studied, and the more scientists dig, the more frightening the impacts of Paraquat exposure become.
Can an Attorney Help Me If I Am Sick?
While Paraquat is known as an effective weed killer, victims of Paraquat exposure understand that it is simply a killer. Both acute and chronic exposure to the herbicide can result in traumatic health complications that can end up impacting a victim’s life forever. Add to that the responsibility of paying for enormous medical bills and continued treatments to deal with the aftermath of this exposure, and Paraquat exposure feels both physically and financially crippling. Victims deserve better, especially when there is significant evidence supporting claims that the herbicide is toxic and extremely dangerous to humans.
Unfortunately, many victims often feel like they have nowhere to turn and no recourse for the state they now find themselves in. That simply isn’t the case. Those exposed to the herbicide may be due compensation for their injuries and their pain and suffering. An attorney is a valuable resource when it comes to determining if you have a case and how much your claim may be worth. The health impacts of Paraquat may come with significant lifetime costs. Victims deserve compensation to cover those costs and the emotional distress of knowing that this chemical may have impacted their quality of life and lifespan.
In addition to helping victims try to recover the money to which they are entitled, an attorney can stand up for a victim’s rights. They can hold the negligent manufacturing, distributing, and marketing entities liable for their actions and send a message that poisoning people cannot be tolerated.
Our Lawyers Can Help
If you or a family member has been impacted by Paraquat exposure, you may have a legal compensation claim. Let’s discuss the merits of your case. Contact our legal team for more information.