What is the Connection Between Paraquat and Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a complex syndrome, resulting in several symptoms, including motor control issues, akinesia, rigidity, tremors, along with neurological deficits. These symptoms are generally understood as caused by toxicity in certain neurons in the body and brain, and studies and science agree that it manifests both from genetic and environmental causes.  Paraquat and Parkinson's Disease

One of the environmental causes of Parkinson’s disease is the herbicide paraquat. It is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world, and also one of the most controversial. Paraquat has been banned from use in more than 60 countries, but the United States has not taken these measures. That is in spite of growing evidence of paraquat’s harmful side effects and the lawsuits that have come about as a result. 

How Individuals are Exposed to Paraquat

As previously mentioned, paraquat is an herbicide, and those who are most at risk of exposure are agricultural workers, manufacturers and haulers, and those that live near farms. Paraquat is frequently used on crops like corn, soy, cotton, peanuts, wheat, almonds, strawberries, grapes, and sweet potatoes. These crops are among the most popular crops in the nation, which means that many people in the agricultural industry have the potential for paraquat exposure. Indeed, more than 10 million pounds of paraquat are used each year in the United States.

Paraquat exposure happens through direct contact with the skin, inhalation, and accidental ingestion, and it is most likely to occur in the following ways:

  • Mixing or loading the herbicide
  • Spraying
  • Maintaining tanks and equipment used for spraying
  • Spending time in fields where it has been sprayed

Pesticide Exposure and Parkinson’s Disease

Over the last thirty years, investigations and studies have found that pesticides like paraquat lead to the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. One of the first investigations into the association between paraquat and PD began with a study in Taiwan, where from 1993 to 1995, one hundred and twenty patients with PD were treated and asked about their paraquat exposure. A later study by the Agricultural Health Study worked with 79,500 agricultural workers in North Carolina and Iowa, where there was a total of 83 prevalent and 78 incident cases of Parkinson’s disease linked to pesticide use, 25 of those being exposed to paraquat. In 2011, a larger study of farmers in the United States found that those who used paraquat as an herbicide on their farms were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s when compared to those that did not use it. Additionally, those who lived near farms were shown to have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s, since the herbicide can drift to nearby areas on the wind.

The symptomatology of Parkinson’s disease is a deficit of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that sends messages between nerve cells, and paraquat has been shown to kill these cells. The inhalation of this herbicide, which happens when it is aerosolized for spraying on crops, makes it so that it has a direct pathway to the brain. It can also find its way into the brain through direct exposure and accidental ingestion, though these methods will also lead to its spread throughout the body.

Motor Loss Symptoms that One Can Develop from Paraquat Exposure

If you notice any of the following symptoms after being around paraquat, consult a physician to find out if you have Parkinson’s or another neurological disease:

  • Hand tremors
  • Prolonged stiffness in the body
  • Motor control difficulties
  • Loss of balance
  • Difficulty with walking
  • Difficulty with speaking
  • Reduced facial expression
  • Drooling
  • Handwriting changes
  • Trembling
  • Whole body fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Cognition issues during evening hours
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Anxiety

Seeing all of the possible sites of exposure and symptoms you can develop, if you or someone you know can make a causal link between paraquat exposure and their Parkinson’s disease development then you should seek out legal representation. Even if you have not immediately begun to develop Parkinson’s — exposure does not immediately lead to symptoms — an injury attorney can help you determine if you have a case that is worth moving forward.

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