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Paraquat, also known as Gramoxone, is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world. Commercial farmers use it to kill weeds and grasses. Because Paraquat is highly toxic and can lead to fatal poisoning, only licensed professionals can apply it.

Last Modified: June 18, 2024
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What Is Paraquat?

Paraquat is a widely used commercial herbicide that is highly effective at killing weeds and grasses. It’s especially used to kill plants that are resistant to Roundup and its main ingredient glyphosate. Paraquat is sold in concentrated form and is mixed with water and sprayed on crops.

About 377 companies manufacture paraquat products worldwide. Syngenta’s product Gramoxone is one of the most well-known brands in the United States.

Paraquat is highly toxic and can cause short-term and long-term health effects, some of which may be fatal. Research also links long-term paraquat exposure to Parkinson’s disease, an incurable nervous system disorder that affects movement and communication.

What Is Paraquat Used For?

Commercial farmers and other agricultural workers in the United States have been using paraquat to control invasive weeds and grasses since 1964. Applicators spray it on commercial crops such as corn, soy and cotton.

Paraquat is highly poisonous, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says just “one sip can kill.” Because of its toxicity, the EPA limits the herbicide’s use to licensed applicators for commercial use. There are no paraquat products licensed for homeowner use.

Paraquat should never be used around:
  • Cotton
  • Foods such as corn
  • Grass
  • Soy
  • Weeds

People who are licensed paraquat applicators are at the greatest risk for exposure, but anyone who works in areas where paraquat is used may be exposed. This includes groundskeepers, farmers, growers, pickers and other agricultural workers.

All brands of paraquat marketed in the United States contain dyes, sharp odors and chemicals that help prevent people from accidentally drinking the weed killer. Paraquat products also include an agent that induces vomiting.

Symptoms of Paraquat Exposure

Symptoms of paraquat exposure vary depending on the amount of exposure and how someone was exposed. For example, ingesting a large amount of paraquat causes acute poisoning and symptoms appear quickly. Licensed applicators and other agricultural workers exposed to smaller amounts of the chemical over a long period may not manifest symptoms for years.

Short-Term Exposure Symptoms

The first symptoms of acute poisoning through ingestion are immediate. Short-term exposure symptoms can occur within hours to several weeks after exposure and can be fatal.

Short-term paraquat exposure symptoms include:
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Fast heart rate
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Gastrointestinal problems (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea)
  • Heart failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver failure
  • Lung scarring
  • Muscle weakness
  • Respiratory failure
  • Seizures
  • Swelling

Pain and swelling in the mouth and throat are typically the first signs. When the chemical enters the stomach, it causes gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, vomiting and nausea.

Long-Term Exposure Symptoms

People who survive acute paraquat poisoning typically have long-term health problems that affect various organs. Serious effects including reproductive problems and impaired respiratory function are associated with paraquat exposure.

Long-term paraquat exposure symptoms include:
  • Heart failure
  • Impaired lung function (from long-term exposure)
  • Kidney failure
  • Lung damage
  • Lung scarring (pulmonary fibrosis)
  • Parkinson’s disease (from long-term exposure)
  • Reproductive problems (from long-term exposure)
  • Scarring of the esophagus

Licensed applicators, farmers and agricultural workers that have been exposed to paraquat for years may not suffer acute symptoms of poisoning. But they can still have long-term effects from exposure such as an increased risk for developing Parkinson’s disease.

Paraquat Poisoning

Acute paraquat poisoning occurs through ingestion, inhalation or skin exposure. Most cases of poisoning occur because of accidental ingestion. Poisoning is usually fatal and there is no antidote.

“Paraquat is highly toxic to humans; one small accidental sip can be fatal and there is no antidote.”

Small to medium amounts of paraquat can damage the mouth, stomach, lungs or intestines. Swallowing large amounts can damage multiple organs and lead to death within hours.

Paraquat and Parkinson’s Disease

Several studies link long-term paraquat exposure to developing Parkinson’s disease. These studies propose that paraquat creates oxidative stress that damages and kills neurons that produce dopamine, increasing the risk of the disease.

Parkinson’s disease is an incurable brain disorder. Researchers theorize the loss of neurons that produce dopamine may cause the condition to develop.

Why are paraquat lawsuits being filed? - Featuring Ellen Relkin, partner at Weitz & Luxenberg
Ellen Relkin, partner at Weitz & Luxenberg | 1:03 Why are paraquat lawsuits being filed?
Paraquat lawsuits are being filed by individuals who were exposed to the herbicide and later developed Parkinson's disease.
Replay Video
Ellen Relkin, partner at Weitz & Luxenberg, explains why lawsuits are being filed against the makers of paraquat.

The scientific link to Parkinson’s disease has led several people to file paraquat lawsuits against herbicide manufacturers, including Syngenta. Lawsuits claim paraquat is defective and led farmers to develop Parkinson’s disease. Plaintiffs say that manufacturers failed to warn the public about the risk.

Sampling of Studies

An ecological study published in December 2022 examined the association between paraquat exposure and end-stage renal disease. The study found that people who experienced paraquat poisoning had rapid damage to their organs. The findings included acute kidney injury, which is associated with an increased risk of death.

A National Institutes of Health, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the EPA Agricultural Health Study examined the health of U.S. farmers over several years. Researchers found that paraquat use increased the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

People exposed during their teen or young adult years had an increased Parkinson’s disease risk of 200% to 600%, according to studies from The Unified Parkinson’s Advocacy Council.

The EPA’s Position

The EPA reviewed studies connecting paraquat to Parkinson’s disease. In 2019 the agency released a memorandum saying the evidence was insufficient to determine a link between them.

However, in September 2022, the EPA cancelled the registrations for several products containing paraquat at the request of manufacturers. Among the registrations cancelled include Syngenta Corp.’s Gramoxone SL 2.0 and Amvac Chemical Corporation’s Parazone 3SL Herbicide.

Individuals who were exposed to the herbicide and later developed Parkinson's disease are filing Paraquat lawsuits.
Learn More

Treating Paraquat Exposure

There is no antidote for paraquat poisoning and it’s usually deadly. People who ingested paraquat should seek emergency care.

Hospital treatment consists of removing paraquat from the body using Fuller’s earth or activated charcoal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the patient arrives at the hospital within an hour of ingesting paraquat, nasogastric suction may be used.

Supportive care measures for poisoning patients include:
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Kidney dialysis for potential kidney failure
  • Medications for low blood pressure
  • Medications to support better breathing
  • Ventilator support

People who may have gotten paraquat on their skin should wash themselves with soap and water. Flush eyes with plain water for 10 to 15 minutes. Seek medical care immediately.

Is Paraquat in Roundup?

Roundup and paraquat are both herbicides, but are not the same. Roundup’s active ingredient is glyphosate.

Paraquat is more poisonous than glyphosate and is 28 times more acutely toxic, according to a Pesticide Action Network report. Because of its toxicity, paraquat is banned in several countries and is a restricted use herbicide in the United States.

Unlike paraquat, Roundup has no restrictions on use and anyone can purchase and use it, including homeowners. The EPA considers glyphosate’s toxicity to humans to be low, though the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has stated that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” People who have developed cancers such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma from Roundup use have sued its manufacturer.

Paraquat Use Is on the Rise

Despite being banned or phased out in the European Union, Brazil and China, paraquat is more popular than ever in the United States. Paraquat use in the U.S. has increased and continues to rise, according to the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Project.

Agricultural use for paraquat in 2017

From 2006 to 2017, the estimated amount used jumped from about 3 million pounds to 11 million pounds. The increase in the use of paraquat is linked to its use on weeds that are resistant to Roundup, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Every 15 years, the EPA reevaluates the use of certain pesticides. In October 2020, the EPA reapproved paraquat for restricted use. The agency proposed more strict safety measures to protect human and environmental health.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.