The Dangers of Paraquat Herbicide

Paraquat, sold under the brand name Gramoxone, is one of the most toxic herbicides in use today. So toxic, in fact, that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bans its use without protective equipment and special permits. When used correctly, paraquat can be an extremely effective weed killer. But if misused or accidentally swallowed, this potent herbicide can cause serious health problems that last for decades after initial exposure. That said, let’s take a look at: what is paraquat, its uses, symptoms of paraquat poisoning, and the adverse health effects of long-term exposure to the herbicide.

What Is Paraquat?

Paraquat is a non-selective herbicide. Its mechanism of action involves disruption to electron transport and oxidative phosphorylation in photosynthetic organisms, causing rapid necrosis and death.

This means that paraquat kills all cells in its path very quickly. However, it does not discriminate between harmful and beneficial plants. Additionally, because paraquat can be absorbed through both roots and leaves, it has no trouble killing trees or stumps.

For these reasons, the herbicide has been widely banned for agricultural use in many parts of the world; however, some home gardeners still use it today (despite legal restrictions).

paraquat herbicide spray

Uses of Paraquat

Because paraquat is an herbicide, it’s very effective in killing weeds. With such a powerful ability to kill plants and eliminate plant life, there are numerous uses for paraquat. Examples include: weed control, pasture management, and turfgrass control. 

Keep in mind that although it’s effective at getting rid of these plants and weeds, it’s very toxic and should only be used when absolutely necessary and with proper precautions in place.

Also, be sure to follow your local state regulations when using any type of herbicide for weed control purposes. That way, you know exactly how much you can use at once or over a period of time without causing problems or possibly hurting anything else around your home or property.

What Are The Symptoms Of Paraquat Poisoning?

Paraquat poisoning symptoms vary depending on a number of factors, including the amount and duration of exposure. Long-term exposure to the herbicide causes symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, a progressive brain disorder. 

The symptoms associated with acute (short-term) paraquat poisoning include: nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea and cramps, muscle weakness and spasms.

Symptoms may also include: blurred vision; rapid eye movement; constriction or dilation of pupils; light sensitivity or blindness; abnormal blood pressure and heart rate; tremors or twitching in face or limbs, seizures, and severe headaches.

How Does One Treat Poisoning?

If you are suffering from paraquat poisoning, there is little you can do on your own. Seek immediate medical attention if you believe you have come into contact with paraquat herbicide. There are some things that can be done to help improve overall health while treating paraquat poisoning, though.

Remove clothing that has come into contact with paraquat and be sure to wash skin with soap and water immediately following exposure. Further treatment depends on how much exposure an individual has had, but for many people, hospitalization is necessary during detoxification.

Side Effects Of Long Term Exposure

One of paraquat’s side effects is that it is toxic to humans, with long-term exposure leading to Parkinson’s disease. Other side effects can be found on the label, where it is listed as one of its ingredients. 

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine discovered the link between a higher risk of Parkinson’s disease and exposure to paraquat.

Exposure to paraquat can cause a range of adverse health effects, from minor irritation and rashes to serious illnesses. In acute cases, symptoms may occur immediately. In chronic cases, however, symptoms may not develop for several years after exposure.

Exposure to paraquat can cause cancer, as well as birth defects in children. That said, pregnant women should avoid the herbicide at all costs.

Long-term inhalation has also been linked to lung damage and emphysema in humans, as well as liver damage in laboratory animals.

The Bottom Line

The biggest concern about paraquat is that, when used inappropriately or incorrectly, it can be absorbed through your skin. Because that’s a possibility, people who work with it have to wear protective clothing and gloves at all times.

Additionally, people who work around paraquat have to wear a respirator mask at all times because inhaling its vapors over an extended period of time can cause serious lung damage. Long-term exposure can also result in Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms.