How Syngenta’s bad science helped keep the world’s deadliest weedkiller on the market
Hundreds of secret company documents and an insider’s testimony have revealed how a pesticide giant used manipulated data and ineffective ’safety‘ measures to keep paraquat on the market – in the face of thousands of deaths. A major new Unearthed and Public Eye investigation.
Warunika was only 16-years-old when she took a swallow from an old bottle of Gramoxone weedkiller she found hidden on a ledge above a toilet in her family home. Her parents are sure she had not intended to die.
She was cooking eggs and fish for dinner when her hungry little brother came in, trying to grab things from her and hurry her along. They argued and she ended up hitting him with a broom. Their mother, Kumarihami, intervened, and while she was tending to the bump on her son’s head her daughter grew scared and “very silent”.
The next thing Kumarihami knew, Warunika had taken the bottle and poured some liquid into her mouth. Then she threw it at her mother and said, “here, I drank this.” “She did it to frighten me,” says Kumarihami.
Warunika died in hospital the following day.
Read the entire story of Warunika here: https://www.publiceye.ch/en/topics/pesticides/how-syngentas-bad-science-helped-keep-the-worlds-deadliest-weedkiller-on-the-market
That this story can be told at all has much to do with the efforts of one man – a British scientist called Jon Heylings.
Heylings is a senior toxicologist, and an honorary professor of toxicology at Keele University, where for more than a decade he has run a successful company that offers specialist methods for safety testing chemicals without the use of animal experiments.
But, before that, he worked for 22 years at Syngenta and its predecessors, leading work to develop safer formulations of paraquat.
And he is now speaking out, for the first time publicly, to repeat what he first told his superiors at the company more than three decades ago – that he believes the Gramoxone Syngenta still sells in many countries is a lot less safe than it could be.
Heylings’ warnings are focussed on the emetic added to Syngenta’s paraquat products, a chemical codenamed PP796. The point of this additive is to reduce the product’s toxicity by causing people who swallow it to vomit out the paraquat before a fatal dose can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
But Heylings argues the amount of PP796 added to standard Gramoxone is far too little to trigger prompt vomiting in most people who swallow a ‘minimal lethal dose’ of the weedkiller.
He alleges this is because the concentration is based on a single “fabricated” internal report from 1976, in which an now-dead ICI toxicologist named Michael Rose manipulated data from a small-scale clinical trial to wrongly suggest humans were ten times more sensitive to PP796 than any of the three animal species it was tested on.