Paraquat is arguably the most infamous herbicide out there. Not only is it incredibly toxic, but it’s highly volatile and capable of causing severe toxicity even in tiny amounts. While it was once a go-to herbicide for agricultural purposes, it’s been replaced by other, less-toxic alternatives. And although it’s still used occasionally on some crops, it is gradually being phased out for more environmentally-friendly alternatives. This post will cover what Paraquat is, why it’s so toxic and what substitutes exist on the market today.
What Is Paraquat?
Paraquat is a poisonous compound commonly used as a herbicide to manage weeds and grasses. It is a non-selective herbicide, meaning it will kill any plant it touches. Paraquat is typically sold as a liquid in varying strengths in the United States. Paraquat is classified as “restricted use” by the US Environmental Protection Agency. This implies that only certified applicators are allowed to use it. Fortunately, there are paraquat alternatives which are safe to use and provide similar outcomes, which will be discussed later. The first commercial Paraquat was introduced in 1961 and found great success primarily due to its ability to do its intended job. Furthermore, it gained an enormous amount of popularity in the 70s when the US government financed a campaign to use it to destroy vast tracts of cannabis plantations in Mexico and the state of Georgia.
However, it was soon discovered to have a wide range of toxic effects on humans and other animals. It was promptly redesignated to become more tightly controlled and even banned outright in the EU in 2007. Although it has been banned or is highly regulated in many developed nations, it is still used worldwide, but not without significant harm to local populations. But how exactly is this substance so harmful?
How Is Paraquat Harmful?
Paraquat has many harmful effects on human health. The most common way people are exposed to Paraquat is by inhaling the particles in the air or touching residues on plants or soil. People who consume large amounts of the substance are likely to experience discomfort and inflammation in the mouth and throat. The next sign of sickness is the presence of digestive tract symptoms such as:
- Abdominal discomfort
Aside from these symptoms, consuming or being in contact with a large amount of Paraquat can result in:
- Heart failure
- Liver failure
- Lung scarring (via inhalation)
- Acute kidney failure
- Muscle weakness
- Pulmonary edema (AKA lungs filled with fluid)
- Respiratory failure (possibly fatal)
As you can see, this is a list of dreadful health issues that can all be avoided by selecting different chemical herbicides. But the question remains, what alternatives exist for Paraquat?
Alternatives To Paraquat
After reading that litany of awful health issues, you probably wonder what commercial users could use to replace such a powerful herbicide. Now that Paraquat has been restricted, vegetable growers may be interested in other herbicide options available to control emerging weed seeds. Luckily, there are numerous options, each with its own upsides and downsides.
Glyphosate is a herbicide that is commonly used to kill weeds, especially in agriculture. It works by preventing plants from producing specific proteins needed for growth. Glyphosate was first introduced as a herbicidal agent by Monsanto in 1970 and became popular because of its low cost, effectiveness, and lack of harmful residues. Many studies claim that Glyphosate is safe, and the EPA has classified it as safe for use around humans. Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped other nations from enforcing their own restrictions on this substance. For example, in much of the EU, Glyphosate is banned for private, non-commercial use, differing from the EPAs recommendations. Nonetheless, it has been proven to be a far safer alternative to Paraquat, and its substitution has undoubtedly saved numerous lives.
- Safer than Paraquat.
- It is a very effective herbicide.
- Low toxicity results in less residue waste.
- It is a reactionary rather than proactive solution as it only works on weeds that are already growing.
- Several weed species are naturally resistant to Glyphosate, while others acquire resistance through repeated exposure, or are simply very durable.
- Its compounds can only be broken down in specific soil profiles.
Although organic herbicide might not be suitable for large-scale industrial agriculture, it still has its place as a safe alternative. Organic herbicides are a type of herbicide that is made from organic or natural ingredients. Organic herbicides are herbicides derived from natural sources and made from plants, animals, or mineral products. This means that the chemicals used in organic herbicides are not synthesized artificially in a lab. However, organic herbicides typically have lower toxicity than synthetic herbicides, but they can be more expensive and may take longer to work. Some examples include:
- Weed Pharm (active ingredient: acetic acid)
- C-Cide (active ingredient: citric acid)
- GreenMatch (active ingredient: d-limonene)
- Matratec (active ingredient: clove oil)
- WeedZap (active ingredient: clove and cinnamon oil)
- GreenMatch EX (active ingredient: lemongrass oil)
How Do Organic Herbicides Work?
Some organic herbicides work by killing a plant’s ability to produce chlorophyll or other nutrients needed for growth, while others work by preventing photosynthesis from occurring. These organic herbicides kill existing weeds but are ineffective against new weeds that emerge later. This means that they need to be used consistently. Furthermore, organic products effectively suppress weeds when they are small but not when the plants are older.
How Do You Apply Organic Herbicides?
It is important to remember that organic herbicides only affect the plant matter they touch, so it is vital to spray thoroughly. Nevertheless, you can often apply organic chemicals similarly to other options like Glyphosate, i.e., via spraying. In fact, due to its kill-on-contact nature, spraying is typically the only viable option.
- They are far safer for both flora and fauna.
- They have similar effects to most synthetic herbicides on the market.
- The compounds break down quickly and naturally into the surrounding environment.
- Organic herbicides can be ineffective against robust weeds.
- They are sometimes more expensive in large quantities.
- They might not provide adequate weed control for industrial farmers.
Although Paraquat has proven its ability to destroy weeds effectively, it comes with a range of unpleasant and sometimes deadly consequences. Even though it is still available for commercial use in some countries, numerous safer alternatives exist and produce similar outcomes.