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Revealed: The secret push to bury a weedkiller’s link to Parkinson’s disease

Internal documents from chemical giant Syngenta reveal tactics to sponsor sympathetic scientific papers and mislead regulators about unfavorable research

The global chemical giant Syngenta has sought to secretly influence scientific research regarding links between its top-selling weedkiller and Parkinson’s, internal corporate documents show.

While numerous independent researchers have determined that the weedkiller, paraquat, can cause neurological changes that are hallmarks of Parkinson’s, Syngenta has always maintained that the evidence linking paraquat to Parkinson’s disease is “fragmentary” and “inconclusive”.

But the scientific record they point to as proof of paraquat’s safety is the same one that Syngenta officials, scientists and lawyers in the US and the UK have worked over decades to create and at times, covertly manipulate, according to the trove of internal Syngenta files reviewed by the Guardian and The New Lede.

The files reveal an array of tactics, including enlisting a prominent UK scientist and other outside researchers who authored scientific literature that did not disclose any involvement with Syngenta; misleading regulators about the existence of unfavorable research conducted by its own scientists; and engaging lawyers to review and suggest edits for scientific reports in ways that downplayed worrisome findings.

The files also show that Syngenta created what officials called a “Swat team” to be ready to respond to new independent scientific reports that could interfere with Syngenta’s “freedom to sell” paraquat. The group, also referred to as “Paraquat Communications Management Team”, was to convene “immediately on notification” of the publication of a new study, “triage the situation” and plan a response, including commissioning a “scientific critique”.

A key goal was to “create an international scientific consensus against the hypothesis that paraquat is a risk factor for Parkinson’s disease,” the documents state.

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Top US chemical firms to pay $1.2bn to settle water contamination lawsuits

DuPont and two related companies said they would pay close to $1.2bn to settle liability claims brought by public water systems serving the vast majority of the US population on Friday, just days before the start of a bellwether trial in South Carolina over PFAS contamination.

PFAS maker 3M was reportedly also considering a settlement that would keep the company from having to face allegations that it was responsible for knowingly contaminating drinking water supplies around the United States.

The trial set to start on Monday is expected to shine a light on long-held secret documents about the chemical giant 3M’s knowledge of the dangers of its per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). 3M has previously announced it will exit PFAS production by 2025.

DuPont and its related companies were recently severed from the case, as they negotiated the settlement in which DuPont will pay roughly $400m ; Chemours, a DuPont spinoff, will pay $592m; and another DuPont-related company, Corteva, will pay about $193m.

The companies said the settlement excludes personal injury claims due to alleged exposure to PFAS, as well as claims by state attorneys general about PFAS contamination of natural resources.

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California researchers link popular weedkiller to health problems in young adults

Children exposed to a weedkiller commonly used in farming, as well as on residential yards and school playgrounds, appear to be at increased risk for liver inflammation and metabolic disorders in young adulthood and more serious diseases later in life, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. 

The paper was authored by 12 California scientists and health researchers – most from the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health – and is the latest of many studies linking glyphosate herbicide to human health problems. 

Glyphosate is better known as the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup products as well as scores of other weedkilling brands sold around the world. The chemical is considered the most widely used herbicide in history, and residues are commonly present in food and water, as well as in human urine. The chemical is so pervasive that government researchers have documented it in rainfall.

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