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EPA requests comment on health, ecological risks of paraquat

Photo: mladenbalinovac/iStockphoto

Washington — The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking public comment on separate draft risk assessments for the toxic herbicide paraquat and its impact on human and ecological health, according to a notice published in the Oct. 16 Federal Register.

Issued in accordance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, the documents advance a reapproval review of paraquat – a restricted-use substance used for weed control and as a defoliant on certain crops before harvest that only certified applicators can administer.

EPA’s draft human health risk assessment provides estimated handler risks for mixer/loaders, loader/applicators, applicators and flaggers, and mixer/loader/applicators.

“Inhalation exposures are the risk driver for all paraquat occupational handler exposure scenarios assessed except for the mixer/loader/applicator exposure scenarios for which dermal exposures are the highest contributor,” the document states.

According to EPA, unintentional ingestion of paraquat has resulted in 17 deaths – including three children – since 2000. Additionally, a 2011 study found that workers who are exposed to paraquat have more than double the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

In March, EPA released training materials intended to help prevent poisonings among workers who apply paraquat, recommending they follow label instructions and use personal protective equipment when handling the substance. Also, paraquat should:

  • Always be kept secured to prevent access by children and/or other unauthorized people.
  • Never be stored in or around residences.
  • Never be used around home gardens, schools, parks, golf courses or playgrounds.

EPA states in an Oct. 15 press release that its assessment “did not support a causal relationship” linking paraquat use to Parkinson’s, but adds that additional feedback on the matter is welcomed during the comment period.


Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, opposes the agency’s dismissal of the reported links between paraquat use and Parkinson’s.

“A pesticide this toxic has no place near our food or the people who help to grow and harvest it,” Donley said in a separate Oct. 15 press release. “The EPA should follow the lead of nearly every other major agricultural country in the world and ban this dangerous stuff for good.”

In July, Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) introduced legislation in the House aimed at banning paraquat, noting in a press release that 32 nations already have done so.

Public comments on the draft documents are due Dec. 16.

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