Why does the US allow a controversial weedkiller banned across the world?

Paraquat is outlawed in the EU, UK, Switzerland and China as a growing chorus of US advocacy groups demand the EPA change its position

Secret files suggest chemical giant feared weedkiller’s link to Parkinson’s disease

A growing chorus of US farm worker, health and environmental advocacy groups is demanding that this must change. They argue that research conducted by independent scientists provides abundant evidence of paraquat’s ability to cause Parkinson’s and other health dangers, and the EPA is improperly discounting that body of research.

Last week the Guardian and the New Lede reported that internal corporate documents suggested Syngenta had feared a link to Parkinson’s for decades. It sought both to refute the evidence with studies authored by its own scientists, and to influence the makeup of influential EPA panels that advise on pesticide regulation.

The scientists said that the EPA had looked at 26 epidemiological studies in its assessment of paraquat and Parkinson’s and all but two of them found positive associations between the pesticide and the disease. Yet the EPA downgraded most of those studies, focusing on those that did not find an association, the scientists said. The agency similarly improperly dismissed animal studies that found an association, they wrote.

“EPA discounted many important epidemiological and animal studies for reasons that were not sufficiently grounded in science,” the scientists wrote. “Multiple lines of convergent scientific evidence, published in peer-reviewed journals over many years, establish a link between paraquat and Parkinson’s.”

Allegations of a ‘rigged system’

Critics accuse the EPA of being inappropriately cozy with the pesticide industry, and biasing its decisions to favor companies selling pesticides. Several EPA scientists came forward last year, publicly alleging that EPA management routinely pressures EPA scientists to tamper with risk assessments of chemicals in ways that downplayed the harm the chemicals could pose. The EPA scientists provided emails, text messages, and other records to Congress that the legal group representing them says demonstrates a “rigged system”. The EPA’s office of inspector general is investigating the complaints.

The scientists complained, among other things, that key managers move back and forth between industry jobs and positions at the EPA. An example is seen in the recent agency review of paraquat.


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