While the average person may not think about where their produce is from when they select it at the grocery store, there are crops growing steadily in the proverbial backyards of most Americans. Farmland sewn with corn, cotton, wheat, soybeans, tobacco, and many other essential crops are interspersed with residential spaces all throughout the country, which means that suburban Americans are far closer to the cycle of food and textile production than they would ever imagine.
While this proximity is likely a bit surprising to some, it should also be concerning. In order to produce the necessary volume and quality of crops, farmers treat their plants with harsh chemicals to repel pests and kill weeds that are damaging or crowding their plants. Unsurprisingly, these chemicals are just as detrimental to humans as they are to unwanted bugs and weeds.
If you live or work near any large-scale farms, you should familiarize yourself with the most common herbicides used on crops, their potential effects on your health, and ways to respond to potential exposure.
Which chemicals should concern you?
While the average homeowner may be familiar with using commercial weedkillers like RoundUp to squash crabgrass and dandelions, agricultural herbicides are even more potent and dangerous. One of the most common industrial herbicides is a chemical called paraquat, which is available only to licensed professionals in the U. S. Not unlike store-bought products, which have their own host of potential health concerns, paraquat is a known hazardous chemical that could cause major health issues if ingested, inhaled, or contacted by skin.
In the U. S., paraquat is available as a liquid that is sprayed over plants. This delivery method makes the licensed workers who spray the chemical most at-risk for exposure, but others may still be affected if they eat contaminated food or come in contact with treated plants.
What are the symptoms and long-term effects of paraquat poisoning?
Paraquat poisoning can cause a variety of immediate and long-term health issues. Right after exposure, it’s common to experience throat swelling, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Due to the chemical’s severe toxicity, severe conditions like heart, liver, and kidney failure can develop as soon as days to weeks after exposure, depending on the amount of paraquat ingested. Consuming large amounts can lead to acute kidney failure, coma, muscle weakness, seizures, respiratory failure, or even death within hours or days.
While these effects are highly concerning, many people affected by paraquat will be exposed to small amounts over a longer period of time. In addition to the diagnostic symptoms listed above, exposure could lead to the development of more serious conditions that could affect those exposed—particularly workers—for a lifetime.
What should you do if you have been exposed to paraquat?
The general effects of paraquat poisoning are not the only ones to worry about. In fact, studies have shown that people exposed to paraquat are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease—a serious disorder that affects speech and mobility. While the symptoms and effects listed above occur rather rapidly, affected people may not develop Parkinson’s or display symptoms for decades after exposure.
The conclusions of these studies have led to legal defense for affected people seeking financial compensation for the damages related to paraquat exposure. In response to these known concerns and issues, health administrations hope for a decline in paraquat usage or its ultimate ban.
Pushback against current paraquat regulations are zoning in on manufacturers for failing to educate consumers, workers, and the public in efforts to hold the involved parties accountable. Unfortunately, there is little being done to prevent risk. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency continues to re-register the chemical for legal use in the United States and paraquat usage has increased among farmers as crops and pest plants are proving resistant to other herbicides on the market. Until changes are made within this chain, affected people should educate themselves, seek retribution for their exposure and treatment, and agitate for action on this issue.