Toxic weedkiller linked to Parkinson’s poses disproportionate risk to Latino farmworkers, families in California

SACRAMENTO – A groundbreaking analysis by the Environmental Working Group sheds light on a concerning disparity in exposure to the toxic weedkiller paraquat, with rural Latino communities in California’s farm country facing a disproportionate risk.

Paraquat is a widely used herbicide allowed for use on U.S. crop fields, despite its links to Parkinson’s disease and other health risks, including childhood leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Crop growers are disproportionately spraying the chemical in areas of the state dominated by large farms and inhabited by Latino farmworkers and their families, making environmental health risks worse for these communities.

EWG researchers analyzed state pesticide application data between 2017 and 2021, highlighting alarming trends in the use of paraquat across California, with significant concentrations in areas with high poverty rates and predominantly Latino populations. California is one of the only states to make paraquat spraying data readily available.

Kern County emerges as a hot spot for paraquat use, with communities such as Shafter and Wasco also experiencing high levels of exposure. These three communities combined have over 80 percent Latino residents who witnessed almost 180,000 pounds of paraquat spraying during that time period. Overall, 5.3 million pounds of paraquat were sprayed in California within the five-year span.

Paraquat is mostly used in agricultural fields to clear land before crops are planted, and it poses a substantial risk to both environmental and human health. Despite the weedkiller’s toxic nature and links to debilitating diseases such as Parkinson’s, the Environmental Protection Agency continues to permit its use on crop fields. The agency is disregarding mounting evidence of such harm, even as it banned the pesticide from being applied to golf courses.

More than 60 countries have banned the weedkiller because of its links to Parkinson’s disease. But the EPA keeps defending its use by conventional agriculture in the U.S., which is based on a woefully outdated and severely flawed scientific analysis. 

"Paraquat is not only a threat to our environment but also a direct danger to the health and well-being of these communities, particularly Latino populations, who make up the majority of the population," said Al Rabine, EWG GIS analyst and lead author of the report.

"The findings of our analysis underscore the urgent need for action by the state to protect these communities from the harmful effects of exposure to this toxic weedkiller," he said.

Senior EWG Toxicologist Alexis Temkin, Ph.D., said the health risks of paraquat threaten communities working and living near fields where it is applied. “The more we learn about paraquat, the more the science makes clear how harmful exposure can be, and that risk is amplified for those people closest to where it’s used the most.”

Representing 40 percent of California’s population, Latinos face heightened risks of exposure to paraquat because of their disproportionate representation in agricultural work. With Latinos making up 96 percent of farmworkers in California, the risks extend beyond the fields, as pesticide drift can infiltrate homes, further endangering residents’ health.

“California’s Latino communities should not be subjected to additional health risks due to the negligent actions of pesticide manufacturers, farm owners and state regulatory agencies,” said EWG Government Affairs Manager Geoff Horsfield. 

EWG’s analysis underscores the urgent need for regulatory intervention to ease the disproportionate impact of paraquat on these communities in California and beyond. As the EPA falters in its duty to safeguard public health, EWG urges state and local governments to protect their residents from the dangers of paraquat exposure.


The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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