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farm worker in field

A new lawsuit from groups including farmworker protection organizations was filed Friday over the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to renew approval for the toxic herbicide paraquat. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Coalition Sues Biden EPA Over Approval of 'Highly Toxic' Pesticide Linked to Parkinson's

"This paraquat registration puts EPA on the wrong side of science, history, and the law."

Andrea Germanos

A coalition of groups filed a lawsuit on Friday over the Environmental Protection Agency's recent decision to renew approval for the toxic herbicide paraquat.

"This paraquat registration puts EPA on the wrong side of science, history, and the law," said Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, a senior attorney at Earthjustice, in a statement.

Earthjustice is representing the petitioners—which include the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Farmworker Association of Florida—in the case, filed (pdf) in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Studies have linked paraquat to Parkinson's disease, and the EPA itself warns that the weed killer is "highly toxic" and that "one small sip can be fatal and there is no antidote."

Known formally as paraquat dichloride and banned in over 30 countries, it's a widely used weed killer in the U.S. for agricultural purposes.

The EPA drew criticism from environmental groups in August when it announced continued approval for paraquat.

In fact, E&E News reported last month, that renewal was "an unusual example of Biden administration regulatory agencies taking a softer approach than the Trump administration, which built a reputation for easing environmental rules."

The Center for Biological Diversity said at the time that the EPA decision meant the product could stay on the market for 15 years and further explained:

[The] decision reverses protections proposed last year by the Trump administration that would have banned aerial application of the pesticide in most cases. This decision allows the aerial spraying of paraquat on all approved crops, including within 50 feet of houses for some applications. The EPA cited data provided by a pesticide industry consortium called The Agricultural Handler Exposure Task Force as leading to today's reversal.

Kalmuss-Katz added in his Friday statement that "with dozens of countries banning paraquat because of its severe health effects, there is no excuse for leaving farmworkers and agricultural communities exposed to extreme risks."

Connor Kippe, policy advocate at Toxic Free North Carolina, another plaintiff in the new lawsuit, warned of the consequences to communities if the EPA's approval is allowed to stand.

"Farmworkers—children and elders—will be irreparably harmed for the rest of their lives by the re-registration of paraquat," he said in a statement.

"The science is clear," Kippe added, "paraquat is highly toxic, and even small doses by any method of transmission can affect health, especially for child farmworkers. Our flawed pesticide registration system enables this type of glancing regulatory approval, despite known harms to people in all parts of the food system."

Earthjustice's legal filing came as pesticide manufacturer Syngenta is facing a wave of lawsuits from workers claiming their exposure to paraquat caused their Parkinson's disease.

While just "a handful of lawsuits over Paraquat were making their way through state and federal courts in the U.S." at the start of the year, Bloomberg reported last week, "since February, there have been more than 400 new complaints filed in federal courts alone."

"Thousands more are possible after a court panel in June consolidated all federal cases under a judge in Illinois," the outlet added.

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