Status of Paraquat Litigation
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Latest Update on Paraquat Lawsuits
Plaintiffs who are suing makers and distributors of Paraquat alleging that Paraquat is linked to instances of Parkinson’s Disease had until December 13 to respond to moves from the defendants to dismiss the case. The defendants, Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC, Syngenta AG, and Chevron U.S.A., Inc., argued that the case should be dismissed because it fell outside the statute of limitations. Their motion was denied pending further review. The defendants have until January 3 to respond to the plaintiff’s arguments.
As part of the review of the plaintiff’s claims to determine which can move forward, the court directed each plaintiff to complete a Plaintiff’s Assessment Questionnaire. The questionnaire seeks medical, financial, and insurance history and information on workplace exposure to Paraquat and other chemicals. It also asks questions about the type of personal protective equipment used.
The judge also has determined that a jury will hear bellwether cases and has established key protocols and procedures for selecting the first set of these 16 bellwether cases. Based upon the protocols, attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants will each have the opportunity to choose eight cases that must meet specific guidelines for these bellwether trials. Attorneys will then have until March 31, 2022, to conduct discovery and each will be able to select two cases to strike from the pool based upon that discovery. The remaining 12 will move forward to expert discovery. In expert discovery, a medical doctor testifies whether the plaintiff’s Paraquat exposure caused Parkinson’s disease.
Background on the
Paraquat dichloride, or Paraquat, is a weed-killing product and pesticide widely used in the United States. In recent years, Paraquat has become even more widely used as plants have become more resistant to another pesticide, Roundup, which faces lawsuits. According to the US Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA), more than 10 million pounds of Paraquat were applied to crops in the United States in 2018 alone.
The lawsuits named Syngenta and Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. and Growmark Inc. as defendants. Chevron distributed and sold a Paraquat formulation known as Gramoxone in the United States in an agreement with a Syngenta predecessor called Imperial Chemical Industries. (ICI). ICI introduced Paraquat-based Gramoxone in 1962. Under a license agreement, Chevron had the right to manufacture, use, and sell the Gramoxone formulation in the United States. That formulation was produced by ChemChina’s Syngenta Group and Chevron.
Several studies have linked Paraquat to Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative nervous system disorder leading to mild or severe disability. Europe, China, Brazil, and many other countries have banned the use of Paraquat. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has approved Paraquat only for licensed commercial use under strict guidelines.
The guidelines require that Paraquat formulations:
- Be used only by a certified applicator. Unlike most other restricted-use products, Paraquat may not be used by persons working under the supervision of a certified applicator.
- Never be transferred to food, drink, or any other container. The EPA has developed new packaging guidelines to prevent this from happening.
- Always be kept secured to prevent access by children and/or other unauthorized persons.
- Never be stored in or around residential dwellings.
- Never be used around home gardens, schools, recreational parks, golf courses, or playgrounds.
The EPA states that Paraquat is highly toxic but finds studies linking Paraquat with Parkinson’s disease inconclusive.
To date, multiple plaintiffs have sued Syngenta Group and Chevron, alleging “that manufacturers and sellers of Paraquat deliberately concealed the dangers of Paraquat for at least four decades, hid evidence of its dangers from government safety agencies, and knowingly unleashed a product they knew caused Parkinson’s Disease on the public.”
As part of discovery in the litigation, lawyers have obtained internal records from Syngenta and its predecessor corporate entities dating back to the 1960s. While many are sealed, some unsealed ones contain corporate discussions about keeping Paraquat on the market despite its toxicity. They discuss the addition of a vomit-inducing agent. All Syngenta Paraquat-containing products now include this agent and those designed to produce a foul odor and a blue dye.
Paraquat Litigation Timeline
The current litigation related to the herbicide Paraquat began with one case. Thomas Hoffman, a farmer, alleges he developed Parkinson’s disease from long-term exposure to Paraquat. His exposure began in the fifth grade and continued for decades. Hoffman filed his lawsuit on September 15, 2017, and died 23 days later. His lawsuit alleges that the defendants knew “that Paraquat is toxic to both plant and animal cells, and that its creation of oxidative stress in cells is the source of its toxicity, have been known to science since at least the 1960s.” It adds that “Paraquat is among the handful of toxins that scientists use to produce animal models of Parkinson’s disease.” Hoffman v. Syngenta was scheduled for a hearing in June 2021; however, the hearing was canceled, causing speculation that the parties may be negotiating a settlement.
Other plaintiffs also filed lawsuits alleging that the onset of their Parkinson’s was attributable to Paraquat and that defendants knew of the significant health risks when they produced and marketed it. In February 2021, Jim Hemker filed a lawsuit, claiming his 2008 Parkinson’s diagnosis resulted from his repeated exposure to products containing Paraquat. In March, Plaintiff Paul Rakoczy filed in California, and Plaintiff Michael Joseph Kearns filed in Illinois, alleging their Parkinson’s was linked to Paraquat exposure. In April 2021, a Missouri woman who was regularly exposed to the herbicide over a period of 15 years, filed her suit. According to the Missouri woman, she suffered regular exposure both directly and via contaminated drinking water and from wind drift. In June, a couple in Texas sued after the man developed Parkinson’s disease while working at the Rock Island Railroad in 1970. The plaintiff sprayed Paraquat around railroad bridges. He also had an office in a small room where the herbicide was stored. The couple alleges that the Paraquat makers knew of and concealed the dangers of Paraquat for at least 40 years. More lawsuits were filed in different state courts.
Eventually, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated all the Paraquat lawsuits in the Northern District of California and later created a new MDL in the Southern District of Illinois. The MDL, which is designed to speed up and simplify the cases, now includes 391 active cases that are handled by U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Rosenstengel of the Southern District of Illinois. The number of people coming forward with stories of contracting Parkinson’s after exposure to Paraquat has continued to rise. Rosenstengel has urged attorneys for both sides to coordinate with lawsuits in state courts that are making the same allegations. Cases are pending in California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Washington. She said lawyers should prepare for trials next year.
In October 2021, Chevron U.S.A. Inc. filed a stipulation with the court stating that they had agreed with the plaintiffs’ co-lead counsel allowing for the dismissal of Chevron U.S.A. and other entities from the litigation.
The stipulation states that Chevron Chemical Company (whose liabilities Chevron U.S.A. Inc. assumed) stopped distributing Paraquat in 1986 and transferred all Paraquat registrations held by Chevron to a non‐Chevron entity at that time.
Connection between Paraquat and Parkinson's Disease
Several studies connect Paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s. A study cited in Environmental Health Perspectives, determined that pesticides causing mitochondrial dysfunction or oxidative stress, including Paraquat, are associated with Parkinson’s Disease. That research specifically found that Iowa and North Carolina farm families who had been exposed to either Paraquat or Rotenone suffered a risk of developing Parkinson’s disease that was 250 percent greater than those who had not been exposed to the herbicides. This influential research is known as the Farming and Movement Evaluation (FAME) study.
Another study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found evidence in animals and cell models suggesting that pesticides cause a neurodegenerative process leading to Parkinson’s disease. However, the study did not find enough data to support that these pesticides pose a risk of Parkinson’s in humans. Another study, published in the journal Cell Death and Differentiation, also found links but lacked enough data to conclude that human exposure to the chemicals leads to Parkinson’s.
However, a 2011 National Institutes of Health study found evidence that people who used Paraquat were 2.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s than those who didn’t. “Paraquat increases production of certain oxygen derivatives that may harm cellular structures. People who used these pesticides or others with a similar mechanism of action were more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease,” one researcher wrote.
The Centers for Disease Control has issued warnings that ingestion of Paraquat through the mouth or skin can lead to Paraquat poisoning. Paraquat poisoning can cause heart, lung, and kidney damage, seizures, and loss of muscular strength. Ingestion of a large amount can cause death. The CDC recommends removing and disposing of clothes and contact lenses and washing the body thoroughly when exposed to Paraquat.
The United Parkinson’s Advocacy Council has urged that the EPA ban the substance for U.S. agricultural use because research indicates low-level chronic exposure significantly increases the risk of Parkinson’s disease. Its 2017 letter to the EPA reads in part:
“Recent research links Paraquat and several other herbicides to the development of Parkinson’s pathology and symptoms. The most recent scientific studies indicate:
- Paraquat increases the likelihood of an exposed person developing Parkinson’s disease;
- The effect is dose-dependent; and
- When combined with other factors, such as genetic disposition, exposure to the fungicide maneb or the insecticide rotenone, the risk is even greater.”
The letter cites two studies in California’s Central Valley that found that years of exposure to a combination of Paraquat and maneb increased the risk of Parkinson’s later in life. People exposed at a younger age — in their teen or young adult years — had a greater risk of from 200 percent to 600 percent. In another study, Central Valley residents under age 60 who lived near fields where the pesticides Paraquat and maneb were used between 1974 and 1999 had a Parkinson’s rate many times higher than other residents in the region.
EPA's Response to
In August 2021, the EPA introduced additional safety measures to limit exposure to Paraquat but still allows its restricted use. While recognizing that Paraquat is essential for controlling invasive grasses in crops in agricultural areas and that no direct one-to-one alternatives are available, it determined that the mitigation measures were necessary because of the risks associated with the use of Paraquat. These measures include:
- Limiting aerial applications and requiring residential buffers.
- Prohibiting pressurized handgun and backpack sprayer applications.
- Requiring enclosed cabs or respirators for ground boom applications.
- Increase the Restricted Entry Interval for several crops.
The EPA says these measures will significantly reduce the potential for adverse health effects from the use of Paraquat.
Attorneys are actively seeking Paraquat cases from additional plaintiffs to include in the litigation. While the instances can result in financial compensation for the plaintiffs and significant revenues for the law firms that handle them, working these cases up properly can significantly strain the resources of most law firms. Engaging additional staff to manage the additional workload can be frustrating and stressful for many law firms.
Case Works provides expert case development support for mass tort cases and can handle the entire case development process from intake through filing. The Case Works team uses proven mass tort methodology and protocols that enable the handling of more active cases. The team of attorneys, paralegals, nurses, and operational staff have extensive experience in handling mass tort cases and the nuances of the legal industry. Case Works has a state-of-the-art technology platform that efficiently manages the cases and provides regular status reports to our partner law firms.
Contact Case Works to learn how the team can help your law firm manage the development of Paraquat cases.