Are there health risks for people working with pesticides, and their families? E-mail

People who use pesticides at work, e.g. farmers, pest controllers, pesticide manufacturer staff, people working in horticulture and floriculture and those applying pesticides in urban, transport and amenity sectors are exposed to pesticides on a regular basis, sometimes at high concentrations. This may place them at higher risk of developing some health problems. There is also the risk of high exposure from an accident.

For example, some cancers are more common among farmers (although farmers generally have a lower rate of cancer than the general population). These include non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which many studies have linked to pesticides. Higher incidence of some cancers has also been observed in pesticide manufacturing plants. It is now quite well established that exposure to pesticides is a risk factor for Parkinson’s disease, although it is still not clear which pesticides are responsible. Research has also suggested associations with other health problems such as thyroid disorder and reduced fertility.

Sheep dipping with organophosphate pesticides to prevent sheep scab used to be compulsory in the UK. Some sheep farmers reported flu-like symptoms after dipping, sometimes referred to as ‘dippers flu’, and went on to develop chronic health problems. Recent research has shown that sheep farmers exposed to organophosphates may suffer from a range of impairments to cognitive functions, for example, response speed, verbal and visual memory, and fine motor control.

Families of pesticide operators may also have higher levels of exposure, because of residues brought home on clothing, or because they live on site in the case of farming families. This is of particular concern for young children, and unborn children, who are much more sensitive to the effects of pesticides (due to their size and the fact that their organs are still developing). For instance a recent review found that leukaemia was more common in children whose mothers had used pesticides during pregnancy.

It is well known that farmers in the developing world suffer a high incidence of acute poisoning, often resulting in severe illness, and causing many thousands of deaths every year. Poor conditions of use in developing countries make it likely that chronic toxicity is also a serious issue; however, most research into pesticide exposure takes place in more developed countries.

Read more about Pesticides and Health and our Pesticide Exposure project

Recent Pesticides News articles on pesticides and occupational health:

Do pesticides make people suicidal?

Community health monitoring in Tanzania

Pesticide poisoning in West Africa

OP sheep dips

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