Paraquat: The Most Dangerous
Pesticide You've Never Heard Of


Paraquat is a highly toxic herbicide that has been used globally for decades to control weeds and grasses in agricultural fields. Despite its widespread use, many people are unaware of the severe dangers it poses to both human health and the environment. Intriguingly, while paraquat is produced in large quantities in China, its use is not even legal within the country itself due to its extreme toxicity but it is legal in the United States. 


Paraquat dichloride, commonly known as paraquat, is a fast-acting, non-selective herbicide. It is primarily used to clear fields before planting crops such as corn, soybeans, cotton, almonds, peanuts, and wine grapes. Its effectiveness in eliminating unwanted vegetation quickly has made it a popular choice among farmers.

paraquat dichloride

Recent investigations have highlighted significant safety violations concerning the use of paraquat on farms, occurring dozens of times over the last five years. These findings raise serious concerns about the potential health risks posed to farmworkers applying the chemical and to individuals living and working in nearby communities as well as people consuming the fruits and vegetables grown on land treated with Paraquat. 

Long-term exposure to paraquat has been linked to Parkinson’s disease, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, childhood leukemia, and other severe health issues. 


Paraquat is used extensively to clear fields before planting crops such as corn, soybeans, cotton, almonds, peanuts, and wine grapes. It can remain in the soil for years and, when sprayed, can drift through the air or linger in dust. Paraquat is both acutely and chronically toxic, posing risks from a single exposure and repeated, low-level exposures. Despite the well-documented health risks, pesticide manufacturers and large agribusinesses maintain that paraquat is safe when used according to the label. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for setting these label requirements in the U.S. However, federal regulators' tightened restrictions on paraquat use have not prevented numerous instances of mishandling, placing farmworkers, consumers and nearby residents at risk.


Given the documented risks and recurring safety violations, there is a strong case for banning paraquat in United States. Waiting for the EPA to implement a nationwide ban will leave farmworkers and rural Americans at continued risk. Legislative efforts, such as Assembly Bill 1963 in California, aim to make paraquat use illegal in California, reflecting the urgent need for action to protect public health in all states. 


The connection between chronic paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s disease has been established for over 35 years. Recent research from UCLA and other studies have reinforced this link, showing higher rates of Parkinson’s among those living or working near intense paraquat applications. A 2019 meta-analysis found that exposure to paraquat increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s by 64 percent. Animal studies also demonstrate how paraquat can damage the human brain, showing changes in behavior, motor function, and dopamine-producing neurons. Additionally, paraquat is acutely toxic, with just a teaspoonful capable of causing fatal harm. Between 2016 and 2022, over 700 cases of paraquat exposure were reported in the U.S., many of them unintentional and some lethal. The risks have led to paraquat being banned in nearly 70 countries due to its toxicity.


The mishandling of paraquat highlights the inadequacy of current regulations and enforcement. Despite clear labeling and usage instructions from the EPA, violations persist, putting farmworkers and communities at risk. Strict restrictions on paraquat are often ignored, suggesting that even more stringent measures may be necessary. However, the only truly safe solution is an outright ban on paraquat use. Californians' health and safety cannot afford further delays, and immediate legislative action is required to protect vulnerable populations from this toxic chemical. 

The continued use of paraquat in the U.S. despite its known dangers reflects a broken system for approving pesticides. The EPA's dismissal of growing research linking paraquat to Parkinson's disease, including findings from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, is alarming. Moreover, reports indicate that the manufacturer, Syngenta, has actively worked to hide scientific evidence and mislead regulators about the risks of paraquat. Despite the bans in over 67 other countries and the rising evidence of its dangers, the EPA still permits the commercial use of paraquat in the U.S., prioritizing corporate profits over public health. This situation underscores the urgent need for reform in pesticide approval processes to better protect workers and communities.

Practical Steps to Avoid Exposure to Paraquat: Protecting Your Health and Home

Consumers can avoid exposure to paraquat by taking several proactive steps to reduce the risk of coming into contact with this hazardous pesticide:

1. Choose Organic Produce: Opt for organic fruits and vegetables, as organic farming practices prohibit the use of paraquat and other synthetic pesticides. Certified organic produce is grown without harmful chemicals, reducing the risk of pesticide residues. 

 2. Wash Produce Thoroughly: Rinse all fruits and vegetables under running water before consumption. Using a brush on firmer produce can help remove any pesticide residues on the surface. While washing cannot remove all residues, it significantly reduces the amount present. 

3. Peel and Trim: Removing the outer layers of fruits and vegetables, such as peeling apples or trimming the outer leaves of leafy greens, can help eliminate surface residues. 

4. Drink Filtered Water: Use a solid carbon block filter or a reverse osmosis (RO) system to filter your drinking water. These filtration systems can effectively remove pesticides, including paraquat, ensuring that your water is safe and clean. 

5. Stay Informed: Stay updated on pesticide use and residues through resources like the USDA Pesticide Data Program or similar reports. Awareness of which crops are most likely to contain pesticide residues can guide purchasing decisions. 

6. Support Sustainable Agriculture: Advocate for and support local farms that use sustainable and safe farming practices. Purchasing from farmers' markets where you can directly ask about pesticide use can provide peace of mind. 

7. Grow Your Own Food: If feasible, consider growing your own fruits and vegetables using organic methods. This ensures control over what chemicals, if any, are used in your garden. 

8. Stay Away from Treated Areas: If you live near agricultural areas, be mindful of spraying schedules and avoid being outdoors during and immediately after pesticide applications. Keeping windows and doors closed during these times can further reduce exposure. By adopting these practices, consumers can significantly minimize their exposure to paraquat and other harmful pesticides, contributing to better personal and environmental health.