Paraquat has been banned or its use severely restricted in dozens of countries around the world. But, some of those countries still allow manufacture and export of the substance to countries with laxer regulations, like the United States and many developing nations. In China, a state-owned chemical company directly profits from the export of paraquat, even while phasing out use at home.
Who is Syngenta?
Syngenta is the main defendant in the growing number of paraquat-related lawsuits around the country and in the consolidated MDL in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. These lawsuits center on claims that exposure to paraquat triggered Parkinson’s disease, not just in farmers and other agricultural workers, but in many of their neighbors who were exposed to the substance in the air.
On its website, Syngenta bills itself as “a global company with headquarters in Switzerland.” That’s true, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Syngenta was formed as a joint venture in Switzerland in the late 1990s, and the company does still maintain headquarters there. But, in 2017, the company was acquired by ChemChina–a Chinese state-owned chemical corporation.
Switzerland Banned Paraquat in 1989
Syngenta formed in late 2000, through a merger between Novartis Agribusiness and Zeneca Agrochemicals. By that time, paraquat had been banned in Switzerland–home base to the new company–for more than a decade. Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Austria, Denmark, Kuwait and Slovenia had all banned paraquat as well, and Germany had significantly restricted its use. The substance had been restricted or de-registered in several other countries.
In 2011, a legal analysis prepared for the Berne Declaration and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights concluded:
“With the sale of Paraquat – particularly in developing countries – Syngenta violates its responsibility to respect human rights.”
Still, the company exported paraquat around the world. Between 2015 and August of 2017, Syngenta reportedly exported 122,831 metric tons of paraquat from the U.K. alone. Most of that–about 62%–went to poor and developing countries such as Indonesia, Guatemala, India, Mexico and Brazil. 35% came to the United States.
China National Chemical Corp. Acquired Syngenta in 2017
When China National Chemical Corp. (ChemChina) purchased Syngenta in mid-2017, the deal had been in the works for more than a year. The state-owned chemical company paid $43 billion for its new acquisition, though most of that money reportedly came from loans. That same summer, China announced that it would phase out paraquat use in the country by September of 2020.
In the six-month period leading up to the announcement, China exported dozens of metric tons of paraquat–and that was before the acquisition of Syngenta. In late 2021, the state-owned chemical company is reportedly selling paraquat in 28 countries, with their exports making up about 25% of paraquat sales around the world–more than a year after the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs declared that paraquat could only be manufactured for export and could not be sold within the country.
The company website continues to extol the virtues of the chemical and assure the public and prospective buyers that the substance is safe when used properly
Have You Been Harmed by Paraquat?
Syngenta continues to export paraquat to the United States, despite a growing body of research suggesting that the substance is dangerous when ingested, in contact with the skin, or inhaled. As of December 15, 2021, there are nearly 500 paraquat Parkinson’s disease lawsuits pending in the multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.
If you have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and are an agricultural or farm worker who has been exposed to paraquat, or may have been exposed by paraquat use on neighboring farmland, learn more about your rights. Just fill out the contact form on this site and we’ll put you in touch with a paraquat litigation attorney who handles cases in your area.
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