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Job Exposure to Pesticides Linked to Lung Cancer
(Beyond Pesticides, December 7, 2004)
A new study of pesticide applicators has found that exposure to the pesticide chlorpyrifos may be associated with an increased incidence of lung cancer, as reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The study, Cancer Incidence Among Pesticide Applicators Exposed to Chlorpyrifos in the Agricultural Health Study, looked at a total of 54,383 farmers and pesticide applicators in North Carolina and Iowa, almost all of whom are part of the Agricultural Health Study. Over 22,000 have worked with chlorpyrifos. Interestingly, the rate of lung cancer increased among those workers with higher levels of chlorpyrifos exposure. Individuals in the highest quartile of lifetime exposure-days had more than twice the risk of lung cancer compared with those with no chlorpyrifos exposure. Even when study authors controlled for other factors such as smoking, family history of cancer, and age, the chlorpyrifos link to lung cancer remained.

Reuters Health reports that “the fact that the study found an "exposure-response" relationship - meaning lung cancer risk rose in tandem with chlorpyrifos use - is probably the strongest piece of evidence that the pesticide may promote lung cancer,” according to the study’s co-author Dr. Aaron Blair.

The authors note that this result was not anticipated and that the lung cancer association should be interpreted cautiously until it is confirmed in future follow-ups of the AHS cohort and other studies.

Chlorpyrifos was a common household pesticide until it was phased out for residential use beginning in 2000. It is still used in agricultural and for mosquito management programs. Chlorpyrifos is linked to delayed peripheral neuropathy (degenerative lesions of sensory, motor, or reflex nerves). Italian researchers published a disturbing report of an acute chlorpyrifos-poisoning episode, resulting in delayed peripheral neuropathy. There are also reports of EEG (brainwave) pattern, sleep pattern and behavioral changes lasting over a year following exposure to organophosphate insecticides.

A 1996 study of children exposed to chlorpyrifos in utero found that extensive and unusual patterns of birth defects, including brain, nervous system, eyes, ears, palate, teeth, heart, feet, nipples, and genitalia. Published literature and EPA documents contain reports that identify similarities in defects found in test animals and children exposed to chlorpyrifos.

TAKE ACTION: Speak out against the unnecessary exposure of pesticide applicators to chlorpyrifos. Contact U.S.EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt to point out the dangers pesticide applicators face, and that alternatives exist to control pests in structures and lawns, and in agriculture by going organic.