Suffering From Parkinsons Disease Or Cancer European Farmworkers Experience Inadequate Recognition And Failing Compensation Schemes
This story was originally published by Le Monde and Investigative Reporting Denmark.
- Science has shown that pesticides exposure is linked to serious and deadly illnesses for farm workers, including Parkinsons disease and blood cancers.
- Victims across Europe are struggling for recognition and compensation, as occupational disease remains a blind spot for authorities.
- As of now, only France and Italy officially recognize Parkinsons disease to be linked to farm work. The condition is not on the list of occupational diseases upon which the European Union recommends Member States to act.
- The official EU agency is not able to collect and share basic statistics on health at work.
We used to spray the sheep pens with a backpack, without any kind of protection. I never used gloves, masks or anything. I was only careful not to touch the product. I mixed it with a wooden stick and that was it, recalls Luis Grasa. This 70-year-old Spanish man worked all his life as a shepherd and farmer in Cerésola, in the province of Huesca, Spain the number one country in Europe for the use of pesticides. Eight years ago, he was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease, a progressive nervous system disorder that leads to shaking and difficulty with movement.
Luis Grasas testimony is by definition anecdotal. The same could be said about Angel Molina, a retired farmer and Parkinson patient in the municipality of Soria, who remembers getting headaches when applying pesticides in the spring.
How Is It Used On Crops
Paraquat kills green plant tissue on contact. Its highly effective as an herbicide, removing unwanted weeds and grasses from plots of land. Although not always the case, now only trained, licensed professionals may apply paraquat. Its strictly for commercial use its not available to homeowners.
To date, paraquat has been banned by 32 countries, including China and the European Union. However, according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinsons Research, paraquat usage has never been higher in the United States.
The Michael J Fox Foundation For Parkinsons Research
Famous actor Michael J. Fox himself has Parkinsons disease, and hes used his celebrity status to promote the research of his condition. His foundation offers many beneficial resources for family members, including email updates about Parkinsons news and information about new research in the field. They also spend a significant amount of their resources promoting Parkinsons research, which has helped countless individuals nationwide.
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Paraquat Exposure And Neurotoxic Effects Among Farmers
As a farmer, you are well aware of pesticides’ benefits, but you may be less knowledgeable on the human health effects paraquat use can impose. Farmers can be exposed to paraquat in a variety of ways:
- spills, splashes, or direct spray
- spray that drifts from its target
- contact with paraquat residues on the crop or soil
- defective, missing, or inadequate protective equipment.
Paraquat was designed to have a near-immediate and generally lethal effect on a wide range of annual grasses and broad-leaved weeds and the tips of established perennial weeds. Still, unfortunately, that is not all it can do. In addition, the use of the weed-killing agent paraquat dichloride has been linked to increased rates of Parkinson’s disease in farmers with exposure to the acutely toxic herbicide.
Today, there are about 2 million commercial farms in operation in the U.S., covering an area of 922 million acres. Each year, thousands of them experience serious short- and long-term health risks from pesticide exposure.
Short-term effects may include:
- neurological disorders
As per the studies, paraquat contains certain chemicals, exposure to which might contribute to Parkinson’s disease. From a medical standpoint, Parkinson’s disease is caused by the death of brain cells in an area of the mid-brain known as the substantia nigra.
Now Studies In The Field
Meanwhile, in the Normandy fields and apple orchards, or the vineyards of Bordeaux, the Pestexpo team has demonstrated that farm workers are much more exposed to pesticides than previously thought.
And worse – the protection equipment simply doesn’t do the job. Perplexingly, in some cases, wearing coveralls or gloves might actually increase exposure.
“Farm workers are required to wear protective equipment but if they don’t, it’s their fault”, says researcher Isabelle Baldi. “And this is unacceptable because it means that we are rejecting a collective responsibility that starts from the moment a substance is put on the market.”
Alain Garrigou, professor of ergonomics at the University of Bordeaux, found data showing that pesticides can pass through plastic at the intramolecular level – not only because of holes, tears, or seams in the clothing.
“Pesticides have an exceptional penetration capacity,” said Garrigou. “They are peculiar chemicals that are made to kill, but above all they are made to penetrate plant and animal cells.”
This phenomenon is called permeation. “There is no such thing as dedicated pesticide protection clothing,” said Garrigou.
Fifteen years ago, Garrigou and Baldi detailed their findings and worries in an “alert note”.
That, however, is still based on confidential industry data and doesn’t take into account the French findings.
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Palme Dor Winning Director Lars Von Trier Diagnosed With Parkinsons
Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier publicly announced that he has been diagnosed with Parkinsons. The controversial directors films include Melancholia and Dancer in the Dark, for which he won the Cannes Film Festival award in 2000. According to his production company, Zentopia, von Trier will continue working on The Kingdom Exodus, a series set to premier at the Venice Film Festival next month.
Has Anything Changed Over Time
Since most of the studies concerning PD and rural living were done decades ago, a recent study sought to revisit this issue since farming life has changed in recent times. Pesticide use is reduced, there has been a large migration from rural to urban areas, and there is less dependence on well water in rural communities.
The new study was conducted in Finland and looked at the incidence of PD in rural versus urban areas. Interestingly, rural living remained a risk factor for PD. It is possible that current diagnoses of PD continue to reflect the environmental exposures of decades ago, and that risk reduction in rural areas due to decreased pesticide use and other changes in farming life may show more benefits in the future. However, the study suggests that we may not yet fully understand how the rural environment affects Parkinsons risk.
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How Do Farmers And Farmworkers Develop Parkinson’s Disease
Exposure to paraquat on a regular basis can ultimately lead to the development of Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative brain disorder affecting movement and for which there is no cure.
Because it is highly toxic, the Environmental Protection Agency has classified this harmful substance as a restricted-use chemical, only available to trained pesticide applicators. Paraquat exposure can occur in several ways:
- ingestion – when lacking protective additives, paraquat can be mistaken for a safe liquid/beverage and thus ingested, leading to poisoning and potentially death
- inhalation – constant vapor inhalation can inflict severe organ damage over time
- skin contact – a continuous process happening over a long period
The risks of working with this toxic chemical and developing Parkinson’s disease are amplified by the manufacturers’ failure to provide adequate warnings, despite their knowledge about the correlation between the pesticide and Parkinson’s disease and other damaging health consequences.
However, the harsh reality is that the sustained use of paraquat has been linked to increased rates of Parkinson’s disease among farmers and farmworkers, who continue to be exposed, putting their health at risk.
Paraquat Lawsuit Numbers Are Growing Throughout The United States
One of the first cases involving the Paraquat was filed in St. Clair County, Illinois. The lawsuit claims that the manufacturers failed to warn them of the dangers of paraquat dichloride as specified by the toxic pesticides act.
Since then, similar civil suits have been filed in various jurisdictions alleging Paraquat exposure caused Parkinsons Disease.
Due to the similar fact patterns involving the same defendants and similar injuries, the lawsuits have been consolidated into a Multi-District Litigation program in Federal Court.
On June 7, 2021, the United States Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation ordered all civil suits filed in Federal Court to be consolidated into the Southern District of Southern Illinois
Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel will oversee existing and future product liability lawsuits as they will be centralized for discovery purposes, but cases will be tried individually.
While these cases remain in the early phases of litigation, our Paraquat attorneys will monitor the cases progress and update this web page as Judge Rosenstengel makes substantive rulings.
As the number of paraquat lawsuits continues to grow, we will report on settlements and jury verdicts.
Paraquat dichloride is a highly toxic weed-killing herbicide for commercial use only. Since farmers come in close contact with this herbicide, theyre most vulnerable. Apart from that, people living near industrial farms also suffer from paraquat exposure to toxic herbicides.
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A Discussion Of How Environmental Factors Such As Pesticides May Affect Your Risk Of Parkinsons Disease
During my recent interview on Wisconsin Public Radio, many of the callers asked questions related to environmental risks of Parkinsons disease , specifically, exposures related to farming. Those calls prompted me to delve further into this complicated and murky topic.
Before we start discussing specific factors in the environment that may increase risk of PD, lets understand some basic ground rules that will help put this topic in perspective
With that background, let us begin.
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The Last Line Of Defence
The EU Commission nonetheless claims to have a vision zero approach to work-related deaths in the EU, Spokesperson Veerle Nuyts wrote in an email, referring to a framework strategy for health and safety at work adopted in June 2021. As one of these actions, the Commission calls on Member States to provide training to farmers to increase their skills and awareness on the health and safety rules on farms, including safe use of chemical substances, in particular plant protection products, Veerle Nuyts added.
Should farm workers be primarily responsible for their own safety? Catherine Laurent strongly disagrees. A 1989 EU Directive clearly states that the three priority steps to ensure the safety and health of workers at work are: avoiding risks, evaluating the risks which cannot be avoided and combating the risks at source. Giving appropriate instructions to the workers comes only as the ninth possible measure, Laurent explains. In other words, personal protection equipment should always be the last line of defence according to the EU law itself.
Despite this, no pesticide commercial formulation has been denied access to the market based on the state-of-the-science on protection equipment, to our knowledge. For ergonomist Alain Garrigou, one of the whistleblowers, the pesticide authorisation system is a form of externalisation of the responsibility on the people who are its victims.
Specific Pesticides And Their Link To Pd
The evidence that pesticide use is associated with an increased risk in PD, begs the question are there specific pesticides that are most concerning? When data is collected on this topic in large populations, often the participants in the study are unaware of which specific pesticide exposures they have had. This makes it difficult to determine which pesticides to avoid.
Some studies however were able to investigate the risks of specific chemicals. A recent review summarized the current state of knowledge on this topic. The chemical with the most data linking it to an increased PD risk is paraquat, with exposure associated with a 2-3 fold increased PD risk over the general population.
One particularly comprehensive study investigated exposure to 31 pesticides and their association with PD risk. From that data emerged paraquat and rotenone as the two most concerning pesticides.
- Paraquats mechanism of action is the production of reactive oxygen species, intracellular molecules that cause oxidative stress and damage cells.
- Rotenones mechanism of action is disruption of the mitochondria, the component of the cell that creates energy for cell survival.
Interestingly, both mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress are common themes in our general understanding of what causes death of nerve cells in PD.
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Ai Remotely Detects Parkinsons Disease During Sleep
Doctors could soon evaluate Parkinsons disease by having patients do one simple thingsleep. A new study led by MIT researchers trains a neural network to analyze a persons breathing patterns while sleeping and determine whether the subject has Parkinsons. Recently published in Nature Medicine, the work could lead to earlier detection and treatment.
Our goal was to create a method for detecting and assessing Parkinsons disease in a reliable and convenient way. Inspired by the connections between Parkinsons and breathing signals, which are high-dimensional and complex, a natural choice was to use the power of machine learning to diagnose and track the progression, said lead author Yuzhe Yang, a PhD student at MITs Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
While notoriously difficult to pinpoint, Parkinsons has become the fastest-growing neurological disease globally. About one million people in the US and 10 million worldwide are living with it. Despite these numbers, there isnt one specific test for a speedy or definitive diagnosis.
As a progressive disorder, Parkinsons often begins with subtle symptoms such as a slight hand tremor. It affects the nervous system and eventually leads to uncontrollable movements, shaking, stiffness while walking, and balance issues. Over time speech can become slurred and facial expressions fade away.
Parkinson ‘s Disease Farmers And Herbicideuse: New Research Strengthens The Link
Parkinson’s disease, a nervous system disorder, decreasesmuscle control and can eventually cripple the patient. Accordingto Dr. William Koller, a Parkinson’s expert at the University ofKansas Medical Center, people who handle herbicides, drink wellwater, or are around industrial pollutants, appear more likely tocontract the disease. A new study conducted by researchers fromthe University of Calgary and the University of Saskatchewantests the hypothesis that the occupational use of herbicides isassociated with an increased risk for Parkinson’s disease.2
The association between pesticide use and risk of Parkinson’sdisease has been studied for almost ten years, since researchersnoted that users of a drug that is chemically similar to theherbicide paraquat developed Parkinson’s disease.
Ecke, Richard. 1992 Parkinson’s hits rural Montana Great FallsTribune.
Semchuk, Karen M., Edgar J. Love and Robert G. Lee. 1992.Parkinson’s disease and exposure to agricultural work andpesticide chemicals. Neurology 42: 1328-1335
Citation for this article: Pfohman, Robin. 1992,”Parkinson’s disease, farmers, and herbicide use : Newresearch strengthens the link”, Vol. 12, No. 4 , Winter1992, pp. 26.
Quality Assistance For Farmers And Farmworkers With Parkinson’s Disease As A Result Of Paraquat Exposure
The team of experts at Atraxia Law has more than 35 years of experience in evaluating product liability and personal injury claims throughout the U.S. Upon a careful assessment of your case, we will let you know if you are eligible to file a paraquat exposure claim to recover financial compensation.
As soon as we analyze all essential aspects of your situation – the severity of your disease, related medical expenses – and establish eligibility, we will guide you to a lawyer specializing in toxic exposure who can help you obtain reparations from liable herbicide manufacturers.
If you have been exposed to paraquat as a farmer or farmworker and were subsequently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, contact us right away, as paraquat claims have a statute of limitations of two or three years from the moment of receiving the diagnosis and the evaluation process is laborious and complex.
Vineyard Pesticides Linked To Parkinsons
Vineyard farmers who spend more money on pesticide use are more likely to develop Parkinsons disease, according to research published by French scientists in the journal Environmental Research. With Parkinsons disease on the rise around the world, and emerging evidence growing for a Parkinsons pandemic, it is critically important to suss out the factors at play. And as pesticides continue to appear as a driving force for this deadly chronic disease, it is increasingly necessary to pressure regulators to restrict use of these hazardous substances in chemical farming operations.
Researchers used a French National Health Insurance Database to identify incidents of Parkinsons disease in farmers from 2010-2015. These data were then matched with pesticide expenditures recorded from over 3,500 French farming regions, taken around the year 2000. Models were adjusted for a range of health factors, including smoking, age, and sex.
Results show that accounts of Parkinsons disease increase as pesticide expenditures increase for farmers working in vineyards. For the highest amounts paid for pesticides, Parkinsons disease incidence is 16% higher. No connections were found for other cropping systems.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
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