Syngenta paraquat secrets featured on ABC News

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by Carey Gillam and Shannon Kelleher

Decades of secret Syngenta documents revealed by The New Lede were the focus of an ABC News Nightline segment this week, highlighting how the company has worked to hide the risks of its paraquat herbicide.

The New Lede, in a co-publishing arrangement with The Guardian, first revealed a trove of internal Syngenta documents in October 2022 and followed up in subsequent stories, exposing years of corporate efforts to cover up evidence that paraquat can cause Parkinson’s disease.

The documents obtained by The New Lede additionally showed evidence of efforts to manipulate and influence the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and published scientific literature. The documents also show how the company worked to mislead the public about paraquat dangers.

Paraquat is one of the most widely used weed killing chemicals in the world, competing with herbicides such as glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup brand for use in agriculture. Farmers use paraquat both to control weeds before planting their crops and to dry out crops for harvest. In the United States, the chemical is used in orchards, wheat fields, pastures where livestock graze, cotton fields and elsewhere. As weeds have become more resistant to glyphosate, paraquat popularity has surged.

Though it is widely used, paraquat has long been known to be dangerous to ingest – a tiny swallow of the chemical can kill a person within days. Scores of people around the world have died from ingesting paraquat either intentionally or accidentally.

Syngenta maintains on its website that if users follow directions and wear proper protective clothing, including gloves and boots, “there is no risk to human safety.” Paraquat is “not a neurotoxicity hazard,” and “does not cause Parkinson’s disease,” the company states. But despite the company’s claims, dozens of countries have banned paraquat, both because of the acute dangers and due to mounting evidence of links to health risks such as Parkinson’s from chronic, long-term exposure.

Parkinson’s disease is one of the fastest growing neurological disorders in the world, with prevalence of Parkinson’s more than doubling from 1990 to 2015. The disease is expected to continue to expand rapidly, impacting millions of people around the world.

Thousands of people are currently suing Syngenta, alleging that they developed Parkinson’s disease due to exposure to the paraquat herbicide. The first trial in the sweeping litigation is scheduled to begin in January in California.

View the ABC News segments here and here.