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The Daunting Paraquat

Jiaqi Lin

Paraquat, which only gives one time to regret and no time to live again, is a toxic chemical widely used as a herbicide to kill plants. Like its name in Chinese, every plant that touches it will wither. However, recently, paraquat has been used as a suicidal method rather than a plant killer due to its renowned efficacy. Just a sip of paraquat can cause a vivid life to perish. In this passage, we will talk more about this daunting herbicide.



Paraquat, also known as methyl viologen, has a chemical formula of C₁₂H₁₄Cl₂N₂. This toxic chemical was first created in 1882 but was officially used as a commercial product in 1961. Many countries right now are firmly against its use; however, for instance, the United States and Australia, are a few of the countries that still allow the utilization of paraquat by commercially licensed applicators.


Paraquat is a non-selective and quick-acting herbicide that can kill a wide range of green plants within a few days. The primary target of paraquat is the photosystems that are used during the process of photosynthesis, which is a cellular process for plants to convert solar energy into chemical energy. There are two photosystems involved in this process, Photosystem II and I, and they are used for the absorption of sunlight and the release of energy and electrons.


Paraquat will interrupt photosynthesis at Photosystem I where it will accept the electrons from the primary electron acceptor and transfer them to molecular oxygen. This will create reactive oxygen species, which will destroy the plant cell’s cell membrane and its cellular structure. Moreover, the synthesis of reactive oxygen species will also regenerate the oxidized form of paraquat, which will then create another cycle of destruction to the cell.


Besides having such a catastrophic effect on plants, paraquat can also cause animals, including humans, to suffer bitterly. According to research done in Europe, scientists found that paraquat’s neurotoxicity is highly linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease. Therefore, the European Union banned the use of paraquat in 2007. Pulmonary fibrosis, sensory irritation, seizures, and organ damage are a few of the symptoms of the consumption of paraquat.


Paraquat poisoning can be classified into three levels: mild, severe, and extremely severe. The threshold value of being poisoned by paraquat to death is less than 20 mg/kg. At this level, one’s gastrointestinal tract would be intact but can be healed. With a consumption of paraquat between 20 to 40 mg/kg, one’s kidneys, lungs, and liver would be damaged. The patient would usually pass away due to respiratory failure after three weeks. In extremely severe cases, one usually consumes more than 40 mg/kg of paraquat and would die after four days due to multiple organ failures. This shows that paraquat poisoning usually causes patients to suffer for a period before the reaper comes to take their lives.


Although there is no cure for paraquat yet, more countries are stepping in to ban paraquat. However, it’s important to note that sometimes it’s not paraquat’s fault for ending one’s life, but the toxic mind that leads to the thought of consuming it. Therefore, while banning paraquat, one should also pay more attention to one’s mental health.


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