You would think that after years of controversy surrounding the toxic herbicide paraquat, years of constant scrutiny from experts, environmental organizations, and advocacy groups, or after thousands have already filed a paraquat exposure lawsuit, the United States will consider a permanent ban of its use on American agricultural lands.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. In fact, data shows that an estimated 10,000,000 pounds of paraquat are used by farmers and agricultural workers in the country every year. An even sadder news is that that may be an underestimation, because certain US states use paraquat in significantly greater amounts.
This begs the question: Why is paraquat still used in the United States, and which states use it the most? Continue reading to find out the mind-boggling answers to these questions.
Is paraquat still used in the United States?
Yes, paraquat is still used in the United States. Despite the herbicide being outlawed in various countries, including the United Kingdom, where it is produced; Switzerland, where its major manufacturer Syngenta is based; China, where Syngenta’s parent company is located; and the European Union nations, to name a few, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still allows it to be used in the country.
In fact, the regulating agency reiterated its assessment in a 2021 report, where it determined that the benefits outweigh the risks of paraquat use by comparing studies that found a link between paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s disease to those that did not.
But a growing chorus of US farmer, health, and environmental organizations have been challenging the EPA decision since it came out. They argue that there’s a handful of research done by independent scientists, and not industry-sponsored research, that established an association between paraquat use, Parkinson’s, and other health risks, that the EPA has seemingly brushed off.
Where is paraquat used in the USA?
Paraquat has been widely used throughout the US ever since it entered the market. The US states in which paraquat is still used include:
- North Carolina
- South Dakota
The majority of these US states have been known to use large amounts of paraquat to destroy various selections of weeds and grasses. And even though paraquat has been highly effective in doing that, its well-documented toxicity has long been out in the open and has since been a concern for many people who live in those states.
As a result, environmental and advocacy groups have been pressuring these states to ban the use of toxic pesticides, including paraquat. Even regulators from those different states have proposed updates to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act or FIFRA that could better protect farmers and other agricultural workers who are most at risk of being exposed to paraquat.
Which states use the most paraquat?
Agriculture is a major industry in the United States, that’s why it comes with little surprise that it is home to many major agricultural states. The states that use the most paraquat are listed below.
Widespread paraquat use along with its adverse effects are a major concern in California. According to 2018 data from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, farmers used more than 1.3 million pounds of the herbicide in 2018 alone, with over three quarters of the total used in just eight San Joaquin Valley counties.
Some of the crops grown in California include beets, cotton, grapes, rice, potatoes, alfalfa, and tomatoes. It is estimated that paraquat is sprayed on about 9 million acres of agricultural land in California every year. This led conservation and public health groups to urge California regulators to ban the use of paraquat in the state, citing its link to Parkinson’s disease and international bans on the herbicide.
There are more than 47,000 farms enclosed in nearly 9.7 million acres of land in Florida. A legal battle has recently started in the state when a group of Florida agricultural workers sought to join the litigation against paraquat makers, after saying their health is declining due to exposure to the herbicide.
While some farm workers from different parts of the state developed Parkinson’s disease, others complained of irritations, allergies, and respiratory problems.
Georgia is the number one producer of peanuts in the United States, with yields ranging from 1.3 billion lbs. to 1.7 billion lbs., according to data from The University of Georgia.
Additionally, the USDA reported that 99% of the peanut acreage in the state was treated with herbicide in 1999, with paraquat being the most widely used herbicide among growers. Today, it is estimated that about 1 million acres of agricultural land are treated with paraquat each year.
4. South Carolina
States like the Carolinas face extreme risks of exposure to paraquat and nearby communities can also be negatively affected by the consequences of runoff and downstream.
According to data published by Clemson University, the acreage of planted soybean in South Carolina was 310,000 acres in 2020. Paraquat is widely available in the state as one of the cheapest ways for farmers to kill unwanted weeds or vegetation.
Many Texas farmers largely rely on paraquat, especially since various glyphosate-resistant weeds have emerged in the state. Some of Texas’s top crops include cotton, corn, sorghum, soybean, and wheat. An estimated 500,000 acres of these crops are being treated with paraquat each year.
How much paraquat is used in the United States?
Around 10,000,000 pounds of paraquat is used in the United States every year. US farmers currently use this hefty amount of the herbicide on over 100 crops, including peanuts, soy, cotton, corn, citrus, wheat, almonds, sweet potatoes, grapes, artichokes, and strawberries.
Paraquat use in the country is now higher than it has been for the past 25 years, with its use rising to almost 200% since 2009. This alarming increase in the use of the toxic herbicide was triggered by its application on superweeds which have developed resistance to glyphosate, another dangerous herbicide on the market that has been linked to various cancers, particularly non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Is paraquat still used in California?
Yes, paraquat is still used in California. In fact, the dangers of paraquat are more concerning in California, where farmers used almost 80% more of the chemical than they did in 1990, the earliest year that reports for paraquat use were available.
Aside from its severe risks to human health, the herbicide also poses a risk to wildlife, including some of California’s endangered species, such as the San Joaquin kit foxes and Swainson’s hawks.
As a result, environment and advocacy groups from California urged regulators to ban the use of paraquat in the state. This came after Earthjustice, a California-based nonprofit organization filed a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s reapproval of nationwide paraquat use for another 15 years. This lawsuit brought by farmworker groups, health organizations, and environmentalists is still ongoing.
Is paraquat used in Florida?
Yes, paraquat is used in Florida. It is applied in about 1.5 million acres of sugar cane fields in the state every year. Recently, however, farmers and agricultural workers from Florida are just now hearing about the dangers of paraquat.
This prompted many of them to seek legal action against paraquat manufacturer Syngenta, after some of them developed Parkinson’s disease, allergies, irritations, and respiratory issues following paraquat exposure.
Even those who have not been diagnosed yet of Parkinson’s are joining the litigation after finding out that they are now at an increased risk of developing the neurodegenerative disease later in life.
Why is Paraquat Use Still Allowed in the United States?
Paraquat use is still allowed in the United States because environmental regulators granted the herbicide a reapproval, which permits the chemical to be used in American agricultural lands for another 15 years.
And even though paraquat is a restricted use pesticide (RUP), making it only available for use by licensed applicators, growing health concerns still surround the chemical due to its toxicity and the scientific evidence linking it to Parkinson’s disease.
In 2019, however, the EPA declared that there is “insufficient evidence” that could link paraquat use to an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease, especially when the herbicide is used appropriately as indicated on the label.
But in October of 2020, the agency instituted several new safety measures aiming to reduce paraquat exposure, including limiting the use of the herbicide to licensed pesticide applicators only.
The EPA is currently dealing with a collection of public interest groups that petitioned the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking to challenge the regulators’ interim decision to reapprove paraquat. If the petition is successful, there could be a paraquat ban in the United States.