• Tech Tech

EPA under fire for approving use of 'highly lethal' herbicide: 'At odds with the best available science'

"The EPA can still correct its flawed decision, but it needs to follow the science."

"The EPA can still correct its flawed decision, but it needs to follow the science."

Photo Credit: iStock

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently reaffirmed its 2021 decision to approve the use of paraquat-based herbicides on American farmlands, despite outcry from public health advocates.

What happened?

In 2021, the EPA reapproved paraquat herbicides for agricultural use, despite science linking the substance to Parkinson's disease. Public health groups sued the agency, charging that it ignored scientific consensus on paraquat, which is banned in almost 60 countries.

Recently, the agency doubled down on its decision.

"After a thorough review of the relevant studies, the agency concluded that the weight of evidence was insufficient to link paraquat exposure from pesticidal use of U.S. registered paraquat products to (Parkinson's disease) in humans," the EPA stated in a recently released draft report.

However, the plaintiffs alleged that by reapproving this "highly lethal" substance, the EPA is putting industry interests ahead of public health.

"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," Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz, a senior attorney with Earthjustice, told the Guardian.

Why is the reapproval of paraquat concerning?

Several studies have linked paraquat to an increased risk of Parkinson's disease. It is banned in many countries such as China, as well as the UK and European Union.

Agricultural workers face the most immediate risk from the substance. An epidemiological study of central California farming communities exposed to paraquat and another herbicide showed an increased risk of Parkinson's, the Guardian reports.

But paraquat is not the only pesticide threatening the health of Americans. A weed killer called glyphosate can put people at higher risk of developing cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Meanwhile, neonicotinoids have been linked to cancer, while other pesticides may be causing decreased sperm counts in men.

It's not just agricultural workers who are at risk. After pesticides are applied to crops, winds can carry them to nearby communities. The EPA states that this "pesticide drift" can pose health risks for people in nearby homes, schools, and playgrounds, as well as farm workers in adjacent fields.

A recent analysis from the Environmental Working Group found that more than 4,000 elementary schools in the U.S. are located within 200 feet of crop fields that may have pesticides applied to them, threatening the health of young students. Thousands more schools are situated within a quarter mile of crop fields. 

Recently, a retired EPA scientist broke the silence on her former employer, telling Al Jazeera's Fault Lines that she did not believe the agency was protecting the public from toxic pesticides. 

"In the last three decades that I have worked at EPA, it has been very rare for a toxic pesticide to be taken off the market," she told the publication.

What's being done about paraquat?

The EPA has strict regulations that require farmers to be trained and certified to use paraquat and to wear protective gear when doing so. That said, agricultural workers still face high risk, Kalmuss-Katz told the Guardian.

The agency also said it will review more science and could reverse its decision when it issues a final report next year.

"The EPA can still correct its flawed decision, but it needs to follow the science and join dozens of other countries in banning paraquat," Kalmuss-Katz told the news agency.

Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.

Cool Divider