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A bill to ban a lethal agricultural spray advances in Assembly

For immediate release:

Sacramento, CA Bright, tinkling laughter of children carried like music on the wind makes living next to schools occasionally magicaluntil the playgrounds go silent. On the days gone quiet, the air hangs dank and pungent. The children are present, but the odiferous, toxic fumes of paraquat wafting from the fields next door, have kept recess inside. If you live next to corn, soybeans, cotton, almonds, peanuts, or wine grape vineyards, this is just part of rural living. Assembly bill AB 1963 is looking to change that reality; and the bill is advancing rapidly through the Assembly.

While farmers use a range of pesticides and herbicides, easily the most toxic herbicide still in use in California today is paraquat, a weed killer long linked to Parkinson’s disease, high blood pressure, heart failure, kidney failure, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and childhood leukemia. Paraquat is so infamously toxic that it is banned in more than 60 countries. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) even bars its use here in the United States, but only on golf courses. Paradoxically, the EPA permits widespread spraying of paraquat on crops we all consume. And the science is telling us that is no small problem.

One analysis based on data from the National Institutes of Health found that workers that handle paraquat are more than twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than those that 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.

According to state pesticide use data, Environmental Working Group (EWG) researchers found that 5.3 million pounds of paraquat were sprayed in California from 2017 to 2021, with Kern, Kings, Fresno, Tulare, and Merced Counties topping the list for paraquat application. Nearly one million pounds of paraquat was sprayed in Shafter, Wasco, Delano, and Corcoran during those years. Which means that 80% percent of the residents in those cities live near 180,000 pounds of paraquat spray. And those cities, comprised largely of farmworker families, are disproportionately poor and disproportionately Latino. Shafter is 82% Latino, Wasco is 67% Latino, Delano 76%, and Corcoran is 74% Latino. Outside Central Valley agricultural centers, paraquat’s primary use is on vineyards, whose workers too are primarily low-income Latinos, with mixed citizenship status. Due to the nature of seasonal agricultural work, farmworkers largely lack access to quality healthcare, which means that for workers taken ill with Parkinson’s disease or cancer, there is no work, and no healthcare.

"Farmworkers, their families, and nearby communities in California face serious risks from toxic pesticides like paraquat," declared Dolores Huerta, renowned labor leader and civil rights activist, at a press conference in support of AB 1963 alongside Assemblymember Friedman and EWG. "This dangerous weedkiller has been used since the 1960s, endangering millions of essential agricultural workers, their families, and local residents. Farmworkers feed America’s families. We must do better by them. It's time for action. California must ban paraquat now to protect future generations from harm."

EWG senior toxicologist Alexis Temkin Ph.D. testified before the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee ahead of the vote, underscoring the strong scientific research linking paraquat to Parkinson’s disease. “The herbicide has both acute and chronic toxicity, meaning it can harm people both when they’re exposed one time to a single dose, or over time to lower doses,” Temkin told the committee. “Animals exposed to paraquat show changes in behavior and overall motor function; a reduction in the number of dopamine-producing neurons; and harmful malfunctions in the important brain protein alpha-synuclein. All of these are hallmarks of how Parkinson’s develops in humans,” Temkin said.

“EWG commends the committee for moving forward with this vital public health measure,” said Bill Allayaud, EWG director of government affairs in California. “Our state’s farmworkers and their families play a crucial role in providing the food we all rely on daily. Their work shouldn’t jeopardize their health with risks like Parkinson's or cancer. California must act decisively to protect public health by passing legislation to permanently ban paraquat spraying on farms statewide.”

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 Guardian and The New Lede, a nonprofit news organization, published a 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 passed out of the Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee and is now pending in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.


Laura Friedman represents 44th Assembly District, which includes the cities of Burbank, Glendale, and Los Angeles, as well as the communities of La Crescenta, Lake View Terrace, Montrose, North Hollywood, Shadow Hills, Sherman Oaks, Sunland-Tujunga, Studio City, Toluca Lake, and Valley Village.