Recent Articles

Secret files suggest chemical giant feared weedkiller’s link to Parkinson’s disease

For decades, the Swiss chemical giant Syngenta has manufactured and marketed a widely used weedkilling chemical called paraquat, and for much of that time the company has been dealing with external concerns that long-term exposure to the chemical may be a cause of the incurable brain ailment known as Parkinson’s disease.

Syngenta has repeatedly told customers and regulators that scientific research does not prove a connection between its weedkiller and the disease, insisting that the chemical does not readily cross the blood-brain barrier, and does not affect brain cells in ways that cause Parkinson’s.

But a cache of internal corporate documents dating back to the 1950s reviewed by the Guardian suggests that the public narrative put forward by Syngenta and the corporate entities that preceded it has at times contradicted the company’s own research and knowledge.

And though the documents reviewed do not show that Syngenta’s scientists and executives accepted and believed that paraquat can cause Parkinson’s, they do show a corporate focus on strategies to protect product sales, refute external scientific research and influence regulators.

In one defensive tactic, the documents indicate that the company worked behind the scenes to try to keep a highly regarded scientist from sitting on an advisory panel for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agency is the chief US regulator for paraquat and other pesticides. Company officials wanted to make sure the efforts could not be traced back to Syngenta, the documents show.

And the documents show that insiders feared they could face legal liability for long-term, chronic effects of paraquat as long ago as 1975. One company scientist called the situation “a quite terrible problem” for which “some plan could be made”.

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Popular weedkiller Roundup on trial again as cancer victims demand justice

Cancer has taken an unrelenting toll on 72-year-old Mike Langford. After being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) in 2007 he suffered through five recurrences despite multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. Now he struggles with chemo-related neuropathy in his arms and legs, and new tests show the cancer is back.

Langford blames his cancer on his longtime use of the popular weed-killing product Roundup, which he applied countless times over decades using a backpack sprayer around his five-acre California property and a vacation lake home. He alleges in a lawsuit that Monsanto, the longtime Roundup maker now owned by the German company Bayer AG, should have warned of a cancer risk.

Last month, a San Francisco judge ruled that Langford’s health is so poor that he is entitled to a speedy hearing of his claims. A trial is set for 7 November in San Francisco county superior court.

“I’ve had it so long. I’m very angry,” Langford told the Guardian a day after doctors biopsied an enlarged lymph node. “The future doesn’t look too terribly promising,” he said, trying to hold back tears. He learned last week that the preliminary biopsy results show a return of NHL.

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