California Legislation Aims to Ban Paraquat Herbicide Amid Growing Health Concerns

Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Burbank) has introduced legislation in the California Assembly (AB 1963) to phase out and ban the use of the weed killer paraquat by the end of 2025 across all uses, including agriculture. The introduction of this bill follows a long history of scientific documentation of the pesticide’s hazards, including links to Parkinson’s disease, and inaction by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address these concerns.

5 Key Points

  • Paraquat has been linked to severe health issues, including Parkinson’s disease, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and childhood leukemia.
  • The herbicide is highly toxic to humans, with low doses causing death, and has been banned in over 60 countries.
  • EPA has downplayed the connection between paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s disease despite growing scientific evidence.
  • Beyond Pesticides, other advocates argue that EPA’s actions represent a failure to protect public health proactively.
  • The bill aims to phase out and ban the use of paraquat in California by the end of 2025, citing the need for action in the face of EPA inaction.

Health Concerns and Scientific Evidence 

Studies have consistently linked paraquat exposure to various adverse health impacts for humans and wildlife. A 2005 study in Toxicological Sciences was able to reproduce features of Parkinson’s disease in experimental animals, and subsequent research has continued to replicate findings associating paraquat with Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, a 2022 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found a linkage between paraquat dichloride and thyroid cancer, while another study published the same year in Independent determined the toxic impacts of paraquat on bird embryos.

EPA Inaction and Criticism 

Despite the growing body of scientific evidence, EPA has been criticized for downplaying the connection between paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s disease. In 2019, the agency released a systematic literature review, which advocates criticized for dismissing the linkage between paraquat and Parkinson’s disease. Beyond Pesticides submitted comments concluding that the many risk concerns and uncertainties identified in human health and ecological risk assessments make it “unconscionable to allow continued use of such a dangerous pesticide as paraquat.”

Alternatives to Paraquat 

While EPA asserts that there are no direct alternatives to paraquat, Beyond Pesticides argues that several chemical and non-chemical options are widely available. The organization states that given the availability of alternative pest management practices that incorporate alternative cultural practices and less toxic products, EPA has a statutory duty to revoke all registrations of paraquat under its unreasonable adverse effects standard in the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

The Need for Stronger Regulation and a Shift Towards Organic Land Management 

The introduction of AB 1963 in the California Assembly represents a significant step towards addressing the health concerns associated with paraquat use, particularly in light of EPA’s inaction on the issue. Beyond Pesticides, advocates around the nation argue that the failed regulation and subsequent harm caused by paraquat is but one representation of a failed regulatory system that can and should do more to eliminate the use of toxic petrochemical-based pesticides. The organization calls for expanding and strengthening organic land management principles to move beyond the existing product substitution framework that leads to the continuous use of toxic pesticides.