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Friedman Introduces Bill to End Sale of Weed Killer Linked to Cancer and Parkinson’s Disease

For immediate release:

Sacramento, CA - California’s Central Valley has long been referred to as the nation’s breadbasket; after all, it’s the world’s fifth largest supplier of food and agricultural commodities. California is also the nation’s top user of paraquat, a weed killer long linked to Parkinson’s disease, but is also linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and childhood leukemia. So toxic is paraquat that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bars its use on golf courses, but paradoxically, permits its widespread spraying on crops we all consume.

Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Burbank) has introduced AB 1963, sponsored by the Environmental Working Group, to bring the use of paraquat to an end. Under AB 1963, the use of paraquat would sunset in January, 2026. “The evidence is clear: paraquat poses a serious risk to human health and the environment. With more than 60 countries already banning its use, it's time for California to follow suit to protect Californians, especially those in poor, rural communities from exposure to this toxic weed killer,” said Assemblymember Laura Friedman.

Summer temperatures in California’s Central Valley can be unrelenting, hanging in the high nineties and low hundreds, but can soar above 110 degrees for weeks at a time. Seasonal agricultural workers endure some of the most brutal environmental working conditions in the state. Agricultural field workers are also composed nearly entirely of undocumented or first-generation Latino immigrants that work for low wages in fields saturated by paraquat, often without access to quality health care. That lack of health care should not be compounded by work-issued Parkinson’s disease. Due to the nexus of Paraquat’s usage areas (agricultural fields where paraquat is sprayed) and the neighboring communities that paraquat drifts toward (largely Latino communities that work the surrounding fields), paraquat’s effects are mostly borne by the Latino community.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly worsens over time. Slight tremors in the limbs devolve into immutable shaking, worsening balance eventually impairs a person’s ability to move or walk. Weakening muscles steal patients’ voices. Parkinson’s is a thief in the night. It steals peoples’ lives. While we don’t have a cure for Parkinson’s, we can lessen the incidence rate for agricultural workers. And the science is telling us, it is no small problem.

“We cannot afford to ignore decades of mounting evidence linking paraquat exposure to Parkinson’s disease, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and childhood leukemia,” said Assemblymember Laura Friedman.

“California must take decisive action to safeguard public health by enacting this legislation to permanently prohibit paraquat spraying on farms across the state,” said Bill Allayaud, Director of Government Affairs for EWG in California. “Paraquat poses a significant threat to the health of farmworkers, their families and surrounding communities, disproportionately affecting Latino populations.” 

An EWG analysis published on March 27 shows paraquat is disproportionately sprayed in areas of the state inhabited by Latino farmworkers and their families, exacerbating environmental health risks for these communities.

According to state pesticide use data, EWG researchers found that 5.3 million pounds of paraquat were sprayed in California from 2017 to 2021, with Kern County standing topping the list for paraquat application. Over 80 percent of residents in Shafter (82% Latino), Wasco (67% Latino), Delano (76% Latino), and Corcoran (74% Latino) live in close proximity to the spraying of almost 180,000 pounds of paraquat. Like agricultural communities throughout the Central Valley, both cities are disproportionately poor and mostly composed of people of color.

One analysis based on data from the National Institutes of Health found that workers who handle paraquat are more than twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than those who apply other pesticides. A sweeping meta-analysis combining the findings from 13 studies bolstered this conclusion, revealing a substantial 64 percent increase in the risk of Parkinson’s disease linked to exposure to paraquat.

For years, the Swiss-based (now Chinese-owned) chemical giant Syngenta, the primary manufacturer of paraquat, was aware of the health hazards associated with the chemical, including its correlation with Parkinson's disease. However, instead of disclosing this crucial information to the public and the EPA, Syngenta spent decades concealing that information.

In October, 2022, The New Lede, a nonprofit news organization, published its blockbuster exposé “The Paraquat Papers” documenting how Syngenta spent decades plotting to hide its own scientific evidence and undermine independent research showing a link between exposure to paraquat and Parkinson’s.

Among the revelations in the paraquat papers were two entries: one from 1974 and one from 1985. In 1974, notes from a Chevron meeting showed that they were discussing "potential long term chronic effects of workers … breathing in low doses of paraquat from spray mist." In 1985, Chevron flagged an article for their management indicating that pesticides, including paraquat, "may be implicated" in agricultural workers developing Parkinson’s disease.

There are safer pesticides available and widely used in other countries. It is time to join more than 60 other countries and end the sale of paraquat in California.

AB 1963 will have its first hearing in the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee on April 23rd.