In-depth: Agricultural workers say herbicide is increasing their risk of getting Parkinson's Disease

Miller Firm representing about 40 agricultural workers in Tampa Bay area
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Posted at 5:52 PM, Aug 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-16 17:52:21-04

TAMPA, Fla. — A legal battle is brewing in Florida over a popular pesticide called paraquat. Many people in the agriculture industry have said exposure to paraquat increases the risk of getting Parkinson’s Disease.

ABC Action News In-depth reporter Anthony Hill took a closer look at the chemical, the claims that it’s dangerous and the government’s approval of its use.

“Farmers had no clue. They didn’t know about these risks associated with paraquat when they were using and spraying the product,” said attorney David Dickens with the Miller Firm. He said he represents about 750 people, including 40 in the Tampa Bay area. “And so certainly in the Tampa area we have clients and we’re receiving phone calls every day as more and more information comes out.”

Dickens said the firm is filing a class-action lawsuit for Florida agriculture workers who believe they were put at a higher risk of getting Parkinson’s Disease due to their exposure to paraquat, which is widely used to kill weeds and grass. The herbicide is so toxic that you need to be certified to use it and paraquat is banned in European Union countries.

“Many things affect them. First, their skin. They also have irritations and allergies. It also affects their eyes. It always stings their eyes. Something very important is that it affects their respiratory system,” said Isaret Jeffers with Coletivo Arbol, an organization that advocates for migrant agricultural workers.

Jeffers told Hill she doesn’t know much about paraquat, but that many workers have complained about herbicides affecting them.

“What we have to do is protect them. Give them information, give them masks, to drink water, to have special types of soaps to protect their skin from irritation,” said Jeffers.

Hill asked her if companies usually provide safety gear for migrant workers and Jeffers responded, “As far as I know, some companies do, for workers who come for temporary work, but the majority, I’m sure that each one buys their own tools, gloves, glasses if they need them.”

“This is a nasty chemical,” said Dickens. “It’s one that probably shouldn’t be on the market, but if you’re going to use it, make sure you take those precautions and if you see any symptoms of Parkinson’s, make sure you go see your doctor and get it checked out.”

The EPA recently re-evaluated paraquat and found no direct link between the herbicide and Parkinson’s Disease, but in July the EPA did post a notice that it is “requiring mitigation measures to reduce risks associated with paraquat in order to protect human health and the environment.”