Clock ticking to fight foolish EPA analysis allowing toxic weedkiller paraquat

It seems like an April Fools’ Day joke – the Environmental Protection Agency is defending its analysis permitting the use of the weedkiller paraquat, despite its links to Parkinson’s disease. With ironic timing, the EPA has set an April 1 deadline for public comment on why its analysis is laughable.

Paraquat has also been associated with increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, childhood leukemia and more. Dozens of countries have already banned its use.

While the EPA says paraquat is too toxic for use on U.S. golf courses, it still allows use of the herbicide on farms. This threatens the health of the people who apply it, other farmworkers and those who live or work near crop fields where it’s used. 

In California – the only state that readily discloses data on paraquat use – a just-released EWG analysis found that 5.3 million pounds of the chemical were sprayed between 2017 and 2021. And most of it took place in 10 counties, several of which are majority Latino and lower-income.

A recent study confirms that in California, paraquat exposure at work or at home, whether from direct exposure or from drift through air, is linked to Parkinson’s disease. 

The EPA doubled down on its approval of paraquat in February by issuing an interim decision that said its position was justified by its review of the science. But as EWG has shown, that justification contains five fatal flaws – including ignoring the alarming evidence about the links between paraquat and a range of serious health harms:

  • The agency dismisses a growing body of research linking paraquat to Parkinson’s disease.
  • It ignores new evidence about the potential health risks of paraquat that has emerged from legal action against its maker, Syngenta.
  • The EPA ignores the fact that paraquat is used far more heavily in some areas than others, including the communities highlighted in EWG’s California analysis.
  • It continues to exclude from its paraquat analysis some of the ways people who work in or live near farm fields are exposed to toxic chemicals.
  • And the agency fails to properly balance the costs and benefits of a paraquat ban, as other nations already have.

People concerned about paraquat have until April 1 to submit written comments to the EPA highlighting these momentous errors and urging it to ban the weedkiller. The agency’s notice about its analysis explains the simple steps involved in filing comments through a government website, a process that can take just a few minutes.

EWG is crafting detailed comments to submit to the agency critiquing the analysis. The comments will underscore the danger paraquat can pose to anyone exposed. EWG will also repeat its call for the agency to block domestic paraquat uses, which would bring the U.S. in line with 60-plus countries that have enacted such a ban.

Syngenta makes paraquat in China and the United Kingdom. The Swiss-based company, which was acquired by a Chinese state-owned chemical conglomerate, has long understood the weedkiller’s health risks. But it spent decades hiding this knowledge from the public and the EPA. In another ironic twist, the Chinese, Swiss and U.K. governments ban the use of paraquat due to potential health risks from exposure. 

The looming April 1 deadline is a prime opportunity for the public to remind the EPA about the foolish decision it’s making by ignoring the dangers of paraquat.

Even if the EPA continues to allow the use of paraquat, states can act. Federal pesticide law sets a floor, not a ceiling, so states can pursue bans of the weedkiller. Such moves would protect public health until the agency does.

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