The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) is urging support for a landmark piece of U.S. legislation that would ban damaging pesticides, including the herbicide paraquat that has been linked to an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Introduced by Sen. Tom Udall and Rep. Joe Neguse, if it passes the Congress, “Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act of 2020 (PACTA)” would be the first comprehensive update since 1996 to the law governing pesticide use in the United States.
The proposed legislation is meant to prevent the use of toxic pesticides said to harm U.S. children, farm workers, and consumers. One insecticide the measure seeks to ban, organophosphate, has been shown to harm the developing brain of children. Another, known as neonicotinoid, is linked to developmental defects and other problems in unborn children, and is tied to a global collapse of pollinating insects like bees.
In a major development for the Parkinson’s community in particular, the measure would also prohibit the use of paraquat, estimated to raise the risk of Parkinson’s by 320%. This herbicide has been banned in 32 countries, including the European Union and in China, the country where its primary manufacturer is based.
“In most cases, the cause of Parkinson’s is unknown,” the MJFF states in a press release. “This is one of the greatest challenges to better understand and treat the disease. And yet, in recent years, one emerging environmental target has been linked to an increased risk for Parkinson’s disease — the herbicide paraquat.”
In asking the community to actively back this bill, the MJFF highlights a talk with Edwin Zane, whose father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2014. Zane’s grew up in Paia, on the island of Maui, Hawaii. His dad, Ronald Zane, worked for the town’s parks and recreations department for 22 years, being exposed to herbicides and pesticides used by nearby sugarcane and pineapple industries.
“He was the frontline in pest control,” Zane said of his father. “He was exposed to a lot of the commercial and high-grade pesticides that were used in Hawaii. … Pesticides and other chemicals get into the soil. They get into the water. Because I lived surrounded by farms, I’ve had a front row seat to the dangers of pesticide use.”
Paraquat is widely used in the U.S. and considered dangerous not only to those who work in food and agriculture, but — because of possible residue — to those who eat foods treated with it, the MJFF states.
“A lot of communities are in danger,” Zane said. “This is not just a farmer or blue-collar working issue. This is a quality of life issue for everybody.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a review of paraquat’s registration, which it does every 15 years with all herbicides, in 2017 to determine whether Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act registration standards are still being met. The agency has until 2022 to decide on paraquat’s continued use.
In response to the EPA announcement, the Fox Foundation and the Unified Parkinson’s Advocacy Council submitted comments to the agency and a petition with 107,000 community signatures, urging a paraquat ban, in February 2019. The submissions will be included as part of the agency’s assessment of the herbicide’s safety.
U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez also introduced the Protect Against Paraquat Act (H.R. 3817) last year, aiming to remove paraquat from herbicides used for agriculture. This bill, to date, has not moved beyond its House introduction.
Last month, a New York Times health report touched on evidence supporting a link between Parkinson’s and toxic chemicals that include paraquat, and included the review of a book whose author’s call Parkinson’s “a man-made pandemic.”
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