Laura Friedman unveils state bill to ban paraquat linked to Parkinson’s, leukemia

Paraquat is such a toxic pesticide that its use has been banned in more than 60 countries including the United Kingdom, China and Brazil. Assemblymember Laura Friedman, D-Burbank, wants to see California follow suit.

The pesticide is so poisonous that the EPA warns “one sip can kill” and exposure to it has been linked to elevated risk of Parkinson’s disease, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and childhood leukemia. A meta analysis of 13 scientific studies found that people exposed to paraquat are 1.64 times more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a debilitating brain disorder that progressively impairs people’s ability to move and speak.

That’s why Friedman introduced Assembly Bill 1963 on Wednesday, April 3, which would end the use of paraquat on fields and orchards in California by January 2026.

“California needs to be a leader in eliminating highly toxic pesticides like paraquat,” said Friedman at a press conference on Wednesday. “We need to put public safety and environmental sustainability first and foremost in keeping with California values.”

Despite the dangers, the weed killer is used on crops in California including almonds, pistachios, walnuts, grapes, cotton, soybeans and corn. The chemical can remain in the soil for years and can travel through dust and settle in surrounding communities.

During Wednesday’s press conference both Friedman and representatives from Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit organization supporting the legislation, called on pesticide producers to invest in alternatives to paraquat.

“Paraquat came on the market in 1962, which means this is antique technology in agriculture. Imagine, you wouldn’t risk driving a 1962 farm vehicle daily,” said EWG president and co-founder Tim Cook. “A lot of the chemicals that unfortunately we’re still relying on are archaic, outdated. It’s time for them to go, and paraquat leads the list.”

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Friedman said she expects some pushback on the bill from the pesticide industry, but noted that she is willing to meet with them to discuss ways to mitigate any negative impacts it may have on California’s crops.

“How do we help them transition away from this more harmful methodology and into something that safer? We stand available to have those meetings and have those discussions with them, so that this works for them as well as the public,” she said.

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A key priority of the bill is to create safer working conditions for California’s farmworkers.

According to an analysis by the EWG, paraquat is disproportionately sprayed in areas where Latino farmworkers live, exacerbating health risks for workers and their families.

Using state pesticide use data, EWG researchers found that 5.3 million pounds of paraquat were sprayed in California from 2017 to 2021.

The concentration is highest in Kern County’s agricultural communities. In the cities of Shafter and Wasco, for example, 80% of residents lived in proximity to 180,000 pounds of paraquat spray between 2017 and 2021. Latinos make up more than 80 percent of the population in both communities, and more than 20 percent of the residents live below the poverty line.

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“California must take decisive action to safeguard public health by enacting this legislation to permanently prohibit paraquat spraying on farms across the state,” said Bill Allayaud, EWG director of government affairs in California. “Paraquat poses a significant threat to the health of farmworkers, their families and surrounding communities.”

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