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Editorial: Despite bans elsewhere, U.S. still allows use of potentially hazardous weed killer

The United States government should consider joining many other nations in banning the use of paraquat, which is one of the world’s most enduring weed killers.

There is enough evidence for experts to believe there is a link between paraquat and Parkinson’s disease, according to a recent New York Times article published in The Buffalo News.

The Times reported from a factory in Huddersfield, England, where paraquat is produced. Use of the chemical is banned in Britain and the rest of the European Union, meaning that it is produced only for export to countries with lower standards.

Paraquat is being phased out even in China, “to safeguard people’s lives,” although the country also still allows production of the chemical for export.

In the United States and other countries that allow it, the chemical is sprayed on crops, where it is a potent weed killer. Famously, or infamously, our government paid to have it sprayed on marijuana plants in Mexico in the 1970s, triggering concerns that paraquat-contaminated marijuana was being sold in the United States.

Its efficacy as an herbicide must be weighed against use in suicides (drinking a tiny amount can be lethal) and its apparent link with Parkinson’s disease.

An Environmental Protection Agency regulatory filing noted the large body of epidemiological data linking the use of paraquat with Parkinson’s disease. While not yet definitive, it is troubling enough that most consumers undoubtedly would like to know that the weed killer is being sprayed on crops.

The EPA is not expected to decide until 2018 whether to allow the practice to continue. It remains to be seen whether Donald Trump’s pick to head the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, will want to end the use of paraquat in this country. Pruitt has gained a reputation as an ardent opponent of President Obama on climate change and is seen as a friend of oil and gas companies. Pruitt may choose to take a hands-off approach to an issue pushed by Obama’s EPA. That would be wrong.

The Huddersfield plant is owned by pesticide giant Syngenta, based in Switzerland, which, as the article noted, banned paraquat in 1989. What is most notable, aside from the fact that neither China nor Europe wants much to do with this weed killer, is that paraquat is just one of scores of pesticides and herbicides that are produced in Europe while their use there is prohibited.

So why would the United States continue to tolerate it?

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