Paraquat, is a “contact herbicide”, destroying plant tissue on contact. It’s been around for decades, and is used worldwide (except where banned) for killing weeds before and after planting, between crop rows, and for desiccation or defoliation of plants such as potato vines, cotton and soy before harvesting. Tea, coffee, cocoa, banana and palm oil plantations have also used it extensively. Some of its brand names are: Gramaxone, Cyclone, Herbikill, and Parakill. The upside, besides crop yield benefits and efficient weed clearing, is that it binds to soil, becoming biologically inactive, and not likely to leach into groundwater.
The extreme danger that Paraquat offers is primarily to the people who handle and apply it, and also to the creatures who happen to come in contact with it. Banned in the 27 countries of the European Union since 2007 and in Sri Lanka, in the U.S. it can only be applied by commercially licensed users. Protective clothing and safe handling would help the workers who must use it here. Elsewhere, who knows? Thousands are poisoned by it annually, some intentionally, as it has become a popular poison for suicide in many developing countries. For the living, its use has caused many health problems, including permanent skin and lung damage, and it has been linked to Parkinson’s disease.
Thanks to campaigns by workers and NGOs, like the Pesticide Action Network, progress happens. Chiquita has stopped using paraquat on their banana and pineapple plantations, and Dole followed. Unilever, which owns Lipton and PG Tips, is now prohibiting its use on their tea plantations. Let’s hope its decline continues…
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Barbara Hirsch, recording engineer, eco-person
“Unless someone like you cares a whole lot,
nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
– The Lorax, Children’s book by Dr. Seuss