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Pesticide Exposure Linked to Asthma in Farmers

(Beyond Pesticides, September 18, 2007) On September 16, 2007, researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences presented findings to the European Respiratory Society Annual Congress in Stockholm showing that exposure to several commonly used pesticides increases the risk of asthma in farmers. Pesticide exposure is a “potential risk factor for asthma and respiratory symptoms among farmers,” lead author Dr. Jane A. Hoppin told Reuters Health. “Because grains and animals are more common exposures in agricultural settings, pesticides may be overlooked. Better education and training of farmers and pesticide handlers may help to reduce asthma risk.”The study consisted of 19,704 farmers, 441 of which had asthma. Farmers who have experienced high pesticide exposure were twice as likely to have asthma. Sixteen of the pesticides studied were associated with asthma. Coumaphos, EPTC, lindane, parathion, heptachlor, 2,4,5-TP, DDT, malathion, and phorate had the strongest effect.

“This is the first study with sufficient power to evaluate individual pesticides and adult asthma among individuals who routinely apply pesticides,” Dr. Hoppin said.

Asthma is a serious chronic disorder of the lungs characterized by recurrent attacks of bronchial constriction, which cause breathlessness, wheezing, and coughing. Asthma is a dangerous, and in some cases life-threatening disease. Researchers have found that pesticide exposure can induce a poisoning effect linked to asthma in both adults and children.

In the U.S. alone, around 16 million people suffer from asthma. Since the mid-1980s, asthma rates in the United States have skyrocketed to epidemic levels, particularly in young children. Nearly 1 in 8 school-aged children have asthma and is the leading cause of school absenteeism due to chronic illness. Every year, asthma accounts for 14 million lost days of school. The rate is rising most rapidly in pre-school aged children.

The number of children dying from asthma increased almost threefold from 1979 to 1996. The estimated cost of treating asthma in those younger than 18 years is $3.2 billion per year. Low-income populations, minorities, and children living in inner-cities experience disproportionately high morbidity and mortality due to asthma.

TAKE ACTION: Beyond Pesticides urges parents and school staff to ask school administrators to adopt non-chemical practices that protect children from pests and pesticides. Download and send a “For My Child’s Health” postcard to your school asking them not to spray pesticides that contribute to childhood asthma. For more information, see Beyond Pesticides’ brochure, “Asthma, Pesticides and Children: What you should know to protect your family.”


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