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Paraquat MDL Class Action Update

On June 10, 2021, U.S. District Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel announced that the initial conference on the Paraquat class action MDL would take place on June 23 via Zoom.

The conference’s primary purpose was to discuss how to organize the plaintiffs’ leadership counsel. The court also heard both counsels’ position briefs that outlined their views on these cases’ facts, claims, and defenses. It ordered the parties to hold a case management plan meeting.

This is all garden-variety stuff, standard fare as an MDL class action gets underway.

Paraquat MDL 

 On June 8, 2021, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ruled to consolidate all paraquat lawsuits into an MDL in Illinois federal court. The plaintiffs alleged defective design and failure to warn against Syngenta and Chevron. Each of them claimed their paraquat exposure caused them to suffer from Parkinson’s disease.

2011 study on the association between paraquat and Parkinson’s  

In a June 2011 study, researchers found that paraquat and the pesticide rotenone were associated with Parkinson’s disease. They assessed lifetime paraquat and rotenone exposure in individuals. The researchers’ results showed that exposure to both chemicals increased the Parkinson’s risk by two-and-a-half times.

Paraquat’s association with Parkinson’s in TBI patients 

In a 2012 study, UCLA researchers found associations between traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), paraquat, and Parkinson’s. They initially found that individuals who suffered from TBIs were twice at risk for Parkinson’s as those who did not. The researchers found a smaller likelihood of developing Parkinson’s from paraquat exposure alone. However, they found that TBI patients who lived in high paraquat level areas were three times at risk for Parkinson’s.

Italian meta-analysis on the association between pesticides and Parkinson’s 

In a meta-analysis study, Italian researchers found that exposure to certain chemicals increased the risk for Parkinson’s. They examined over 100 studies spanning 45 years. They included several pesticides and herbicides, including paraquat, maneb, and mancozeb. The researchers found that exposure to these chemicals increased the Parkinson’s risk by 60 percent. This risk increased for farmers and rural residents.

 European Union ban on paraquat   

In 2007, the European Union’s Court of First Instance overturned a 2003 directive that designated paraquat as an “authorized substance.” The EU member states of Sweden, Denmark, Austria, and Finland brought this action. Sweden alleged that the directive failed to protect the environment and animal and human health. The court found that the directive failed to protect human health. However, they found no sufficient evidence proving failure to protect animal health.

Paraquat ban’s impact on South Korea’s suicide rate 

A 2016 South Korean study found that the country’s paraquat ban dramatically reduced the pesticide suicide rate. South Korea gradually banned paraquat between 2011 and 2012. Researchers looked at the suicide rates among Koreans over 15 years of age. They found that the pesticide suicide rate almost halved following the ban.

The researchers saw reductions across all ages, genders, and geographical groups. They found that men, the elderly, and rural people experienced the greatest reductions. The researchers also found that the Paraquat ban did not impact crop yields. They recommended that other countries ban to reduce the global pesticide suicide rate.

Illinois federal court lawsuit  

On March 12, 2020, a Texas man and his wife sued Syngenta, Chevron Phillips, and Growmark Illinois federal court. He claimed his paraquat exposure caused him to suffer from Parkinson’s. The man applied it as a crop duster in Wisconsin and Illinois between 1967 and 1974. He also claimed exposure from residing near fields where it was applied. The man received his Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2019. He alleged defective design, failure to warn, negligence, public nuisance, consumer fraud, and breach of warranty against the defendants.

All federal cases, including this one, will be in the new Paraquat MDL class action.

EPA’s paraquat safety proposals  

On October 22, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) detailed its proposed measures to reduce paraquat’s health effects on humans. They include:

  • Prohibitions on aerial applications except for cotton desiccation;
  • Prohibitions backpack sprayer and pressurized handgun application methods;
  • Enclosed cabs if the daily treated area exceeds 80 acres;
  • Enclosed cabs or PF10 gas masks if the daily treated area is less than 80 acres;
  • A spray drift buffer zone for residential areas and a seven-day entry restriction for cotton desiccation; and
  • A 48-hour entry restriction for all other crops

Greenpeace’s “Paraquat Papers” report 

Greenpeace’s March 24, 2021 “Paraquat Papers” report detailed Syngeta’s attempts at hiding Paraquat’s toxicity from the public. Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), Syngenta’s predecessor, claimed to include PP796 in the herbicide to avert fatal poisoning. However, internal company documents showed that the emetic was ineffective and that the company was aware.

According to former Syngenta toxicologist Jon Heylings, PP796 levels in paraquat were too low to induce vomiting in those who swallowed lethal doses. He alleged that a former ICI toxicologist manipulated data to suggest that humans were more sensitive to emetic than other animals.

Heylings wrote several memos on these issues to his superiors. He informed them the former toxicologist misled ICI with his data. Heylings strongly recommended increasing PP796 levels in paraquat, arguing it would reduce the Paraquat poisoning death rate. However, ICI ignored these concerns. Paraquat’s PP796 levels became the global standard for paraquat-containing pesticides and herbicides.

What does poisoning from Paraquat have to do with Parkinson’s litigation? Good question. Not much. But it does underscore that these companies were driving past every safety stop sign when it came to this pesticide.

What’s Next for Paraquat MDL?

In a mass tort MDL like Paraquat, the parties begin the litigation in discovery. This is a chance for plaintiffs’ lawyers to get more information on who knew what and when with Paraquat. The defendants also get a chance to learn about the victims’ claims of having Parkinson’s Disease as the result of Paraquat exposure.

This will involve depositions where people like Mr. Heylings can be asked what was going on under oath, written questions, and, most importantly to the Paraquat litigation, the production of relevant documents.