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Paraquat and Prenatal Health

Paraquat, a commercial herbicide that’s currently the focus of over 300 pending legal actions in the United States, is potentially dangerous for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s extremely toxic when ingested—often causing death immediately for any amount ingested—as well as when it comes into contact with the skin or breathed in. Irreversible damage to the skin or lungs may result if the chemical touches the skin or reaches the lungs when inhaled.

Legal action in the form of multiple Paraquat lawsuits under one multidistrict litigation (MDL) is also being taken against the manufacturers and marketers of Paraquat for the strong evidence building that suggests exposure to the chemical may cause Parkinson’s disease and the neurological symptoms of the disease. New evidence is now showing there may additionally be links between Paraquat exposure and prenatal health.

The Dangers of Prenatal Exposure to Paraquat

This new evidence suggesting that Paraquat exposure may cause health defects in developing fetuses comes from a French study that focused on the impact of Paraquat exposure in pregnant women. The study was published in September 2021 in the Chemosphere medical journal. Until this study, most research and studies about the herbicide’s effects have focused on adults.

During the study, pregnant mice were exposed to levels of Paraquat that were designed to simulate the type of exposure pregnant women may experience when they live near or work on farms where Paraquat is used to treat vegetation. Paraquat dichloride is only legal for commercial purposes in the U.S., but the herbicide is so strong that people can be exposed to it and potentially experience symptoms of exposure from working at, living near, or visiting a location near farmlands where it’s used.

After the mice in the study were exposed to Paraquat, the researchers performed genetic testing on the mice and their fetuses to identify changes in gene expressions that could indicate neurologic damage. The researchers found that Paraquat exposure resulted in clear alternations in the developing brains of unborn mice. The changes were very similar to the genetic alterations seen in patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

While this study is the first of its kind, its conclusions suggest that there is still a great deal we are learning about the dangers of Paraquat exposure and prenatal health. The effects of exposure may be more widespread than we initially thought, and the number of lives that have been negatively impacted by exposure may be larger than even the initial MDL’s numbers suggest.

What Prenatal Health Defects Can Paraquat Cause?

The conclusions of the study, when paired with what we already know about the first neurological symptoms of Parkinson’s disease when it’s diagnosed after Paraquat exposure, suggest that when a developing human fetus suffers from neurologic damage due to exposure, that child may be born with birth defects that cause neurological issues during their growth. It’s possible that these issues may later develop into Parkinson’s disease.

The range of these defects as well as their effects and symptoms are still being determined, but we do know that the symptoms will likely become more apparent as the child ages. Symptoms are also likely to mirror the early effects of Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease often starts out very subtlety in children due to the progressive nature of the disease. Many people who have Parkinson’s disease are not diagnosed until they reach early adulthood for this reason.

Some of the more common early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in children include the following:

  • Tremors, often beginning in the hands, causing uncontrolled shaking
  • Slow movement or loss of spontaneous movement
  • Lack of balance or poor coordination
  • Easily becoming tired
  • Abnormal posture, such as turning or arching of the feet and toes
  • Rigid, stiff, or painful muscles
  • Nonresponsive or weak muscles in the hands or arms
  • Difficulty speaking, chewing, or swallowing
  • Changes in facial expressions
  • Mental or behavioral changes

Parkinson’s disease is caused by the breaking down and dying of brain neurons. While there is no cure for the disease, medication can provide some relief to patients.

There is still a great deal we do not understand about Parkinson’s disease, but currently it’s thought that genetic mutations such as those found in the environment can play a large role in causing someone to develop the disease. The use of herbicides undeniably plays a massive role in determining how safe the environments we live and work in are.

Legal Options for Prenatal Paraquat Exposure

Herbicide manufacturers like Syngenta, a company which manufactures Paraquat, have a responsibility to ensure that the chemicals they create are as safe as possible for use around humans. This includes continually researching safer ways to create their products as well as properly warning consumers of the potential dangers of use. When this responsibility isn’t taken seriously, legal action may be able to be taken against the companies in question to hold them accountable for negligence.

Pending lawsuits against Syngenta claim that the corporation, based in Switzerland, failed to do the following:

  • Conduct the proper amount of testing on the long-term effects of Paraquat as well as the links between exposure and Parkinson’s disease
  • Warn consumers about the health consequences of using Paraquat
  • Market the product with these warnings in place
  • Protect Paraquat users by taking the product off the market, conducting additional research, or improving the product’s chemical formula once evidence showing the links between exposure and Parkinson’s disease were brought forward to the public

As research surrounding the effects of prenatal Paraquat exposure continues to be conducted, it may be possible for families with children who were born with neurological birth defects like Parkinson’s disease to take part in the MDL targeting Syngenta. In the legal world, we define birth defects that could have been prevented as birth injuries. If you have a child who may have suffered from exposure prenatally, you may be able to file a Paraquat birth injury lawsuit with the help of an attorney experienced in multidistrict litigation.

At Frost Law Firm, PC, our personal injury lawyers are prepared to answer any questions you may have about your eligibility to help hold the manufacturers of Paraquat accountable. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to learn more or read the Paraquat lawsuit FAQ we have put together to help potential clients.



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