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Wed, Apr

67 Countries Banned This Toxic Product –But the EPA Says: “Go for it!”

CLIMATE

CLIMATE - Sixty-seven (67) countries have banned paraquat, a toxic chemical used to control weeds that was discovered in the 1950s subsequently widely used throughout the world in agriculture. Despite a deadly toxic reputation, it’s still used throughout America. Moreover, it’s a cheap effective product used as a common pesticide by third-world countries that do not proactively regulate chemical products.

As of 2024, the US EPA, once again, reapproved paraquat in the face of stiff public opposition and criticism via a slew of negative scientific studies. With more than 60 major developed countries banning the product, why is the United States still onboard?

Syngenta is the manufacturer of paraquat. Syngenta was purchased by a state-owned Chinese company named ChemChina in 2017 for $43 billion. Revenues run $20B, and it’s very profitable. This is a prime example of Chinese Communist Party capitalism hard at work. 

Astonishingly, and inexplicably, China prohibits paraquat use in its own backyard, eight (8) years ago the state government banned its use, but China shamelessly allows production of the chemical for export to third-world countries and the United States. 

China banned paraquat, 2016. 

China buys Syngenta in 2017 to produce and sell paraquat to the world outside of China. 

The UK banned paraquat, 2007. 

The EU banned paraquat, 2007. 

Sixty-seven (67) countries have banned paraquat. 

The US EPA reapproves paraquat, 2023-24. 

The US EPA reapproval of the paraquat product Gramoxone is subject to further review. There’s plenty to review, for example: “Syngenta deliberately hid important scientific knowledge about possible serious health effects caused by paraquat, a product and herbicide banned in Europe because it is so toxic that a single sip can kill.” (Source: EU Lobby Profile: Syngenta, A Toxic ‘World Champion’, Corporate Europe Observatory, October 20, 2022. 

According to an article posted in the National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, as of December 2019, entitled: Paraquat: The Poison Potion: “Paraquat, when ingested, is extremely toxic. It causes a spectrum of complications, including acute respiratory distress syndrome, renal failure, hepatotoxicity, and pulmonary fibrosis. The clinical course in paraquat poisoning is often protracted and there is no known antidote for this toxin.” Interestingly, this article is dedicated to various clinical treatment strategies that can be attempted when exposed to the highly toxic chemical. In short, whatever you do, don’t ingest it, don’t inhale it, stay away from it.

A significant study was completed well in advance of the recent EPA reapproval “Go for it!” which discusses much safer alternatives than paraquat poisoning, to wit:  “A new study, led by Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) and supported by the Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention, has shown that a highly hazardous pesticide can be banned without affecting agricultural productivity… Paraquat is highly toxic and fatal to humans when ingested. There is no effective treatment for paraquat poisoning. Banning paraquat is the most effective way to prevent exposure and deaths. More than sixty-seven countries have already banned its use; however, it is still widely used in many low and middle income countries.” (Source: Deadly Pesticide Can be Replaced by Safer Alternatives, New Study Shows, Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention, The University of Edinburgh, January 12, 2023) 

“We already know that paraquat is a highly dangerous pesticide, responsible for many tens of thousands of deaths each year due to intentional and unintentional poisoning. There is no antidote for paraquat poisoning. Banning paraquat is the most effective way to prevent exposure and deaths… Pesticide bans may raise concerns from farmers, who worry that their crops will be adversely affected. This study clearly shows that there are many safer alternatives to paraquat that don’t affect agricultural productivity,” Ibid.

Regardless, America is gung-ho toxic paraquat weed killer in the face of incredible evidence against its use: “There is an incredibly overwhelming body of evidence on this that has been accepted by scientists across the globe, and the EPA’s decision really placed it at odds with the best available science,” according to Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, a senior attorney with Earthjustice, the suit’s lead plaintiff against the EPA. (Source: EPA Again OKs Use of Toxic Herbicide Linked to Parkinson’s Disease, The Guardian, February 11, 2024)

The Earthjustice suit against the EPA represents Petitioners: California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Farmworker Association of Florida, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Farmworker Justice, Alianza Nacional De Campesinas, Pesticide Action Network North America, Center for Biological Diversity, and Toxic Free North Carolina.

“The science is clear that this highly lethal pesticide threatens all living things, including our country’s wildlife,” according to Nathan Donley, environmental health science director at the Center for Biological Diversity: “The EPA should follow the lead of nearly every other major agricultural country in the world and ban this dangerous stuff for good.” (Source: Controversial Herbicide Tied to Parkinson’s Gets Green Light from EPA for Continued Use, The San Francisco Chronicle, January 31, 2024) 

America seemingly has a special bond and unique love affair with paraquat. Usage in America tripled over the past decade. Accordingly, 8,000,000 pounds of it is sprayed on grapes, almonds, soya beans, cotton, corn, wheat, garlic, strawberries, rice, potatoes, artichokes, and pears especially prevalent in California, Iowa, and the Mississippi River Valley. (US Geological Survey source) 

“Chronic exposure, even at low doses, can cause Parkinson’s disease… banned in the European Union (EU) since 2007, as well as Switzerland since 1998, on the grounds that it is too dangerous for European farmers even when wearing protective equipment.” (Source: Banned in Europe: How the EU Exports Pesticides Too Dangerous for Use in Europe, Public Eye, September 10, 2020) 

Even though the EPA publicly acknowledges high risks of toxicity of paraquat, it nevertheless has determined that human risks are far outweighed by the beneficial use of paraquat to kill weeds. Ergo, in a mindboggling exercise of reverse-humanism, weed killers take priority over human life.   

Searching for answers as to how and why toxic chemicals remain in America (and there are thousands) the answer is agrochemical companies use undue influence on federal regulators. 

“Interviews with more than two dozen experts on pesticide regulation — including 14 who worked at the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, or OPP — described a federal environmental agency that is often unable to stand up to the intense pressures from powerful agrochemical companies, which spend tens of millions of dollars on lobbying each year and employ many former EPA scientists once they leave the agency.” (Source: The Department of Yes, How Pesticide Companies Corrupted the EPA and Poisoned America, The Intercept, June 30, 2021). 

“The enormous corporate influence has weakened and, in some cases, shut down the meaningful regulation of pesticides in the U.S. and left the country’s residents exposed to levels of dangerous chemicals not tolerated in many other nations,” Ibid. 

Scientists who identify toxic hazards face enormous pressure from within the Agency to overlook the risks they find.  One toxicologist who worked for the Agency’s pesticide department told The Intercept: “It is an unwritten rule that to get promotions, all pesticides need to pass.” 

Additional pressure to approve questionable toxic chemicals comes from weak-kneed, easily bought, ignorant, stupid, greedy members of Congress who push what’s referred to as “Yes Packages,” forcing the Agency to approve quickly even with incomplete information about product safety. 

America’s elected officials receipt of contributions from Syngenta Corp PAC for federal candidates for 2023-24: $26,000 to Democrats, $136,500 to Republicans. (Source: Syngenta Corp PAC Contributions to Federal Candidates, opensecrets.org)  This analysis does not include “dark money,” when both the donor and lagniappe are not identified. 

According to Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn): “The pesticide industry has brazenly exploited loopholes in federal law for years and strong safeguards are needed to protect the public and our environment from harmful and sometimes lethal pesticide exposure.” (The Intercept) 

Four years ago, in June of 2021 in response to The Intercept article, the EPA responded. EPA spokesperson Kenneth Labbe wrote in an email: ‘The agency is committed to ensuring our pesticide registration decisions are free from interference and that the agency’s scientific integrity policy, which is a bedrock principle for the Biden-Harris Administration, is upheld. EPA is home to world-class scientists. As it has in the past, the agency will continue to ensure their voices and the role of science will guide its decisions going forward.” 

Four years later and the referenced “science guidance used by the EPA” is still highly questionable and under legal attack by numerous sources but appears to be stuck swirling in the toilet, going nowhere fast.

(Robert Hunziker, MA, economic history DePaul University, awarded membership in Pi Gamma Mu International Academic Honor Society in Social Sciences is a freelance writer and environmental journalist who has over 200 published articles appearing in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide.)