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Firm Commences Paraquat Litigation

Walkup attorneys Michael Kelly, Khaldoun Baghdadi, Sara Peters and Justin Chou, in association with Korein Tillery of St. Louis, have filed the first California lawsuits alleging harm from exposure to the herbicide paraquat. The lawsuits allege that long-term exposure to paraquat causes Parkinson’s disease in agricultural workers as well as those who live near fields where the chemical is applied. Paraquat is sprayed both by tractor drawn rigs and crop dusting airplanes and helicopters.

First sold in the United States in the early 1960s, paraquat was used by the United States in aerial attacks on Mexican heroin poppy and marijuana fields in the 1970s. It is a “non-selective” herbicide which kills green leafy plants on contact. Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) first developed and marketed paraquat for use as an agricultural tool for killing weeds and processing crops like cotton and almonds. ICI and Chevron ultimately reached an agreement to make Chevron the exclusive distributor of paraquat in the United States. In 1986, this agreement came to an end and ICI (which exists now as a part of the Swiss corporate giant Syngenta) began selling paraquat in the U.S. To this day, Syngenta continues to sell paraquat to American farmers.

Although the acute poisonous properties of paraquat are well-known (drinking a teaspoon of paraquat can easily kill an adult), exposure to mist or microscopic droplets of paraquat can also devastate the human nervous system. Paraquat kills plants by causing “oxidative stress”: breaking oxygen atoms free from the molecules of living cells. When a person breathes paraquat mist, or paraquat is absorbed through the skin, it travels through the lungs, the olfactory bulb, the skin, or the stomach and damages the part of the brain called the substantia nigra pars compacta.

The substantia nigra pars compacta creates dopamine—a neurotransmitter. When animals are exposed to paraquat, the number of dopamine-creating cells in their brains is depleted.

In humans, the reduction of dopamine-creating cells is one of the hallmarks of Parkinson’s disease. When dopamine-generating neurons are killed, the body is unable to maintain healthy levels of dopamine, confounding many of the brain’s functions. Common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include resting tremors, slow or poor muscular control, shuffling gait, difficulty speaking at a normal volume, and dementia.

The lawsuits allege that Syngenta, Chevron, and others involved in the process of manufacturing, marketing, and distributing paraquat are liable for causing or contributing to the development of Parkinson’s disease.

The first filed cases are awaiting Judicial Council Coordination in Contra Costa County Superior Court.

Clients or associate counsel wishing more information regarding the paraquat litigation should contact Mike Kelly, Khaldoun Baghdadi, Sara Peters or Justin Chou.


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