Paraquat is a commercial herbicide that has been used for decades on many different crops in the United States. Although it was originally invented in the 19th century, products that contain paraquat became widely used in the U.S. beginning in the 1960s. In 2016, based on numerous studies revealing the health hazards associated with paraquat use, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opted to restrict the use of this dangerous chemical.
However, another controversial commercial herbicide, Roundup, which has also been long suspected of causing negative health consequences, remains totally legal.
As of 2022, you must be a commercially licensed applicator who is certified by the EPA to legally purchase paraquat. Licensed applicators must go through special training on how to safely use the herbicide.
How You Could Be Poisoned by Paraquat
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the most likely way to be poisoned by paraquat is by ingesting it. Paraquat that is marketed in the United States, under many different brand names, today generally contains safety additives, which aim to prevent users from accidentally drinking or eating it.
For one, paraquat typically contains a blue dye to help applicators distinguish it from other liquids, including beverages. Paraquat also typically contains an agent that causes a person to begin vomiting if they ingest the chemical, as well as a pungent odor that is meant to deter applicators from accidentally consuming it.
However, if paraquat does not contain these safeguards, a person could accidentally mistake it for a beverage and ingest it. It’s against the law in the United States to transfer paraquat from its container into another container, such as a beverage cup.
While licensed applicators are the individuals most likely to be exposed to paraquat, it can affect others as well. People who live in agricultural areas or near commercial farmland could also potentially be exposed to paraquat through water contamination or spray drift.
Individuals who touch the protective gear and clothing of people who have been using or applying paraquat could also potentially be exposed to the chemical. Similarly, anyone who visits an agricultural work area where paraquat is being used could be exposed.
Paraquat Poisoning Severity
The severity of paraquat poisoning depends on a variety of factors. Arguably the most important factor is how much paraquat was consumed. Other factors include the frequency and length of exposure to the herbicide, along with the victim’s overall health status when they were exposed to paraquat.
Paraquat has the potential to damage tissue in the mouth, stomach, and intestines after entering the body. It can also circulate around the body and cause further damage to the kidneys, lungs, and liver.
Immediate Symptoms of Paraquat Poisoning
One of the first signs of poisoning by paraquat is swelling and pain in the mouth and throat. This is usually followed by digestive system issues. People who ingest paraquat may experience nausea, vomiting, and bloody stools, among other symptoms. Digestive system issues can quickly lead to other problems, like dehydration and reduced blood pressure.
Over time, paraquat poisoning can lead to heart damage, lung scarring, kidney damage, and liver damage. Paraquat can begin to affect these organs within a few days or weeks. Ingesting a large amount of paraquat can quickly lead to symptoms such as confusion, heart injuries, increased heartbeat, breathing difficulties, seizures, acute kidney failure, and unconsciousness.
Long-Term Side Effects of Paraquat Exposure
Individuals who accidentally ingest paraquat but don’t die right away could still experience long-term health complications. Some of the most common complications of paraquat poisoning include heart failure, kidney failure, scarring in the lungs, and difficulty swallowing due to esophageal strictures. Unfortunately, most people who ingest a significant amount of paraquat do not recover.
How to Protect Yourself from Paraquat Poisoning
Most people who are exposed to paraquat ingest it. If you ingest even a small amount of paraquat, you should stop consuming the liquid and pursue prompt medical treatment.
However, you can be exposed to paraquat in other ways. If you believe that you were exposed through skin contact with the substance, you should wash and scrub your body as thoroughly as possible and visit an emergency room or urgent care clinic to be treated.
Depending on how you were exposed, your medical care providers might treat you using activated charcoal or another substance to stop your body from continuing to absorb the herbicide. They could also use nasogastric suction to essentially decontaminate your body by removing recently ingested paraquat.
You might receive fluids through an IV and medication to help you breathe and regulate your blood pressure. While there is no known cure for paraquat poisoning, there are a wide variety of potential treatments. Due to the serious nature of paraquat poisoning, it is vital to seek immediate medical attention if you are exposed to this hazardous chemical.
Toxic pesticides cause severe health consequences for this who are exposed and poisoned by them, and they may be entitled to compensation for pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost wages.