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Poisonings Push EPA Toward Tighter Paraquat Herbicide Use Rules

March 11, 2019, 7:58 PM

Farmworkers and others who apply the widely used herbicide paraquat will have to follow stricter handling procedures under new EPA rules.

The new Environmental Protection Agency rules follow 17 deaths since 2000 caused by applicators who temporarily but illegally stored the chemical in beverage containers that later were mistaken for drinks.

In addition, “three more deaths and many severe injuries have been caused by the pesticide getting onto the skin or into the eyes of those working with it,” EPA said.

Paraquat is broadly used to control weeds on farms and elsewhere and is also used as a defoliant on crops like cotton before harvest..

The new rules released March 8 require that herbicide applicators be certified and take specific new training focused on its toxicity, EPA’s new label requirements and restrictions, and the consequences of misuse.

The agency also is now barring uncertified workers from using paraquat, even where they apply it under a certified applicator’s supervision., even those under the supervision of a certified applicator.

Syngenta, a major producer of paraquat dichloride, wasn’t immediately available for comment. Farmworker Justice, an advocacy organization, likewise didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The requirement for training is only one of several actions EPA has taken. EPA requires closed-system packaging, which minimizes worker contact by directly loading the compound into spraying equipment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Steven Gibb in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at; Pamela Atkins at; Rob Tricchinelli at