Paraquat was the most successful nonselective herbicide in Korea due to its rapid herbicidal activity. However, its high mammalian toxicity, frequent self-poisoning incidents, and a lack of effective antidotes led to a paraquat ban in Korea in 2012. Therefore, this review was conducted to revisit the toxicological profile of paraquat and to investigate the impacts of the paraquat ban on human health and agriculture in Korea. A review of toxicological information reconfirmed that paraquat is highly acutely toxic to humans, and ingestion, inhalation, or dermal administration of the herbicide can cause severe clinical signs and inevitably lead to death by respiratory failure. In Korea, the paraquat ban immediately decreased the suicide rate due to pesticides (mainly paraquat) by 46.1%, resulting in a 10% decrease of the total suicide rate. However, this also led to an increase in suicide attempts with other poisons such as carbon monoxide, suggesting that suicide attempts and rates of suicide by poisoning depend on not only the toxicity of the poison but also the accessibility of the poisoning agents. In agriculture, paraquat was quickly replaced by other nonselective herbicides such as glufosinate and glyphosate. Thus, the paraquat ban did not have a significant impact on agricultural practices but influenced the nonselective herbicide market; the use of glufosinate was higher than use of glyphosate due to glufosinate's rapid herbicidal activity, which is similar to that of paraquat. Though the paraquat ban can be considered as a national strategy to lower suicide rates, the increase in suicide attempts with other poisons suggests that multilateral efforts are required for not only keeping suicidal agents away from people but also minimizing motives for suicide.
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Vol. 68 • No. 3