The Center for Biological Diversity and Californians for Pesticide Reform, on November 4, sent a letter to California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation, urging the regulators to begin reevaluation, cancellation and suspension proceedings for products containing the popular herbicide paraquat.
The letter asks California regulators to ban products that contain paraquat “because of the significant adverse impacts of these products,” noting that multiple scientific studies have linked exposure to paraquat with Parkinson’s disease. The letter notes that around 100 paraquat poisonings occur in the United States every year, leading to at least one death every year since 2012. The letter also notes that additional health risks linked with paraquat include:
- Kidney failure
- Heart failure
- Lung scarring
- Liver failure
The letter argues that even though paraquat is a restricted use pesticide, restrictions on its use “are not sufficient” to prevent the herbicide from significantly impacting the environment and human health in a negative fashion.
Letter Cites Several State Codes And Regulations
The letter cites several California codes and regulations while arguing that paraquat should be banned, including:
California Code Of Regulations § 6220 And § 6221
The letter cites California Code of Regulations § 6220 and § 6221, stating that, because of these regulations, pesticides that present significant adverse effects, such as hazards to the health of humans, fish, and/or wildlife, must be reevaluated.
The letter argues that paraquat should be reevaluated because it presents significant adverse effects such as Parkinson’s disease, cancer, lung scarring, liver failure, kidney failure and heart failure, all of which it claims can be the result of paraquat exposure through inhalation, ingestion or absorption through the skin.
The letter claims that these health effects “fall disproportionately” on farming communities and farmworkers in California, and that numerous protected wildlife species are also harmed by paraquat in California.
California Food And Agriculture Code § 12824, § 12825 And § 12826
California Food and Agriculture Code § 12824 states that the department should eliminate from use in California any pesticide which endangers the environment.
California Food and Agriculture Code § 12825 states that the department may cancel any pesticide which has demonstrated serious adverse effects which cannot be controlled.
The letter urges the department to cancel paraquat’s registration, citing California Food And Agriculture Code § 12825. The letter argues that paraquat’s registration should be canceled because:
- The herbicide has been linked with “serious uncontrollable adverse effects”
- The herbicide’s harm to the environment outweighs its benefits
- Practicable, effective and reasonable alternatives to the herbicide exist which don’t harm the environment as much
- The herbicide is detrimental to animals and the health and safety of the public even when it is used correctly
California Food and Agriculture Code § 12826 states that if the department has a reason to believe that a pesticide should be canceled under California Food and Agriculture Code § 12825, the department may suspend that pesticide’s registration pending a hearing as well as a final decision.
The letter argues that the Department of Pesticide Regulation should immediately suspend paraquat’s registration for the same reasons that it should cancel the herbicide’s registration.
California Fish & Game Code § 2055
The letter cites several sections of the California Fish & Game Code while arguing for the reevaluation, suspension and cancellation of paraquat’s registration in the state.
The letter cites California Fish & Game Code § 2055, which states that all state agencies such as the Department of Pesticide Regulation “shall seek to conserve endangered species and threatened species.” The letter claims that several endangered and threatened species in California are threatened by paraquat, including:
- The San Joaquin kit fox
- The giant kangaroo rat
- The Fresno kangaroo rat
- The yellow-billed cuckoo
- The Swainson’s hawk
- The tricolored blackbird
- The greater sandhill crane
- The valley elderberry longhorn beetle
- The vernal pool fairy shrimp
- Chinook salmon
- Coho salmon
- Steelhead trout
- The California tiger salamander
- The California red-legged frog
16 U.S.C. § 1531
The letter cites 16 U.S.C. § 1531 while arguing that paraquat’s registration in California should be reevaluated, suspended and canceled. This section of the United States Code states that federal agencies “shall seek to conserve endangered species and threatened species.”
California Environmental Quality Act
The letter notes that a California appellate court recently affirmed that any reevaluation decision made by the Department of Pesticide Regulation must comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. The letter argues that this means that any reevaluation decision made by the department must comply with the CEQA policy regarding “avoiding significant adverse effects on the environment where feasible.”
Letter Notes Paraquat’s Links With Parkinson’s Disease
The letter argues that a “plethora of studies” have linked exposure to paraquat with Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, neurodegenerative disorder of the brain which affects motor control. The disease has no cure and there are no treatments which can stop or slow its progression. Parkinson’s symptoms include slow reflexes, slow movement, tremors, balance issues, stiffness, and resistance to passive movement.
The letter notes that a 2019 meta-analysis found “a statistically significant association” between Parkinson’s and exposure to paraquat. The letter also notes that epidemiological studies and animal studies have linked Parkinson’s disease and Parkinson’s-like symptoms with paraquat exposure.
Letter Claims Industry Has Suppressed Data Regarding Paraquat And Parkinson’s Disease
The letter argues that paraquat’s registration should be reevaluated, noting that California Code Of Regulations § 6221 states that the Department of Pesticide Regulation should reevaluate pesticides when it is discovered that data used to register a pesticide was false, incomplete or misleading.
The letter points out that evidence was recently discovered that Syngenta “propounded misleading information” about paraquat’s harmful effects. The letter claims that:
- Internal documents from the 1960s and 1970s show that Syngenta predecessor Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), as well as Chevron Chemical, were aware that paraquat could negatively impact the central nervous system, triggering symptoms in animals which were similar to the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in humans.
- An internal Chevron Chemical memorandum from 1985 showed that corporate officials noted a study finding an “extraordinarily high correlation” between paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s disease, expressing concern over legal liability in the future regarding this correlation, stating, “the bankruptcy of [an asbestos manufacturer]… has highlighted the especially severe financial risks involved in selling a product which contributes to a chronic disease. Parkinson’s can go on for decades.”
- Syngenta conducted a study investigating the effects of paraquat on animal brains which didn’t find a statistically significant correlation between paraquat exposure and loss of brain cells, and publicized this study. Syngenta then re-did the study using a more accurate method, and this time found a statistically significant correlation between paraquat exposure and loss of brain cells. Syngenta did not disclose these results.
The letter urges the Department of Pesticide Regulation to re-evaluate paraquat’s registration “given Syngenta’s campaign to mislead the public about the harmful impacts of paraquat.”
Letter Notes Paraquat’s Link With Thyroid Cancer
The letter notes that a recent study which investigated thyroid cancer in Central California found that paraquat exposure was linked with an increased risk of developing thyroid cancer. The letter urges the Department of Pesticide Regulation should reevaluate paraquat in order to investigate its carcinogenicity.
Letter Notes EPA Reconsidering Paraquat’s Federal Registration
The letter urges the Department of Pesticide Regulation to reevaluate paraquat, noting that the EPA is reconsidering paraquat’s federal registration, having admitted its analysis of risks and benefits “could have been more robust” and noting that it would like to consider the issue of paraquat’s likelihood to volatize further.
Letter Notes That Adequate Alternatives To Paraquat Exist
The letter argues that adequate alternatives, such as integrated pest management (IPM) as well as other herbicides already being sold in the marketplace, obviate the requirement that paraquat be used.
The letter describes IPM as a pest control approach focusing on long-term prevention of pests and the damage they cause through several techniques like using resistant varieties, modification of cultural practices, habitat manipulation and biological control. The letter states that IPM involves pesticides only being used after it is indicated they are necessary, and the application of pesticides under IPM is done so in a way that minimizes risks to human health, the health of other organisms and the environment.
The letter notes that numerous registered herbicides can be used in paraquat’s place, including imazethapyr, iamazamox, hexazinone, clethodim, bromoxynil, 2,4-D, carfentrazone and glyphosate.