Research to examine links between most common pesticides and conditions such as Parkinson’s and cancer
by Danielle Grindlay
Scientists are examining links between exposure to the most widely used pesticides in Australia and degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
The National Centre for Farmer Health (NCFH) will test farmers’ exposure to organophosphate pesticides over 12 months and document the effect on the farmers’ nervous systems.
Flinders University toxicologist Associate Professor John Edwards said aggressive cancers, neurological and psychotic conditions had been linked to long-term exposure, but very little research had been done.
“What we do know is that farmers and pesticide sprayers are at risk of some cancers,” he said.
“We don’t know which pesticides are the contributors to that disease and we don’t know whether it’s the mixture of chemicals or other lifestyle factors that might contribute.
“It’s still quite a speculative argument to say that farmers are more at risk of Parkinson’s due to their exposure to insecticides, and one of the problems there is that the design of the studies that have been done to look for this link are relatively poor.”
Organophosphates attack an insect’s nervous system, causing instant death.
The question is whether they are doing something similar to humans over time.
“We find that it is relatively safe, provided exposure is limited,” Associate Professor Edwards said.
“However, the problem for humans is that it’s an accumulated toxin; that is, the effect accumulates over time with repeated exposure.
“What we’re trying to show to farmers is that the level of exposure they may have had today will have an impact on them.
“Even if they don’t have any symptoms now, they may then accumulate an effect with a subsequent exposure in a week or two or a month later.”