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Daily News Blog

22
Sep

Pesticide Exposure Associated with Anemia and Blood Disorders in Farmworkers

(Beyond Pesticides, September 22, 2022) A study published in the International Journal of English, Literature, and Social Science (IJELS) finds an association between pesticide exposure and anemia among female farmers in Indonesia. Anemia is an autoimmune blood disorder negatively affecting the number of red blood cells (RBCs) and subsequent oxygen distribution via available hemoglobin proteins in RBCs. Types of anemia include iron deficiency, pernicious (lack of vitamin B-12 absorption), aplastic (lack of RBC production), and hemolytic (RBC destruction). Although risk factors for anemia consist of age, genetics, lifestyle, and gender, environmental factors such as pesticide use and exposure contribute to disorder development. Pesticides can interfere with cells in the body, causing blood profile abnormalities that affect blood cell formation and immune system function.

Anemia disproportionately impacts women and children across the globe, prevalent in over half a billion women. The disorder was more prevalent among pregnant individuals because of blood loss and iron deficiency, causing adverse reproductive outcomes among children. These outcomes include preterm delivery, low birth weight, and decreased iron stores, impairing cognitive and motor development. Considering research already demonstrates many chemicals (e.g., pesticides, heavy metals) can enter the bloodstream through ingestion, absorption through the eyes and skin, or inhalation, studies like this highlight the importance of understanding how chemical accumulation in the body can impact long-term health and disease prognosis. The study notes, “The contribution of this study is to increase public understanding that exposure to contaminants in the environment, especially pesticides, can worsen health conditions including the incidence of anemia. So that the community can make efforts to prevent the incidence of anemia, especially related to exposure to pesticides.”

While many studies demonstrate pesticide use and exposure negatively affect farmworkers’ and children’s health, few examine the correlation between pesticide exposure and blood disorder incidents among women farmers. Using a cross-sectional design, a type of observational analysis, researchers measured the exposure and health outcomes of 50 women farmers in Bandungan Sub-District, Semarang District, Indonesia. The results demonstrate an association between the length of pesticide spraying, the number of pesticides, and the type of pesticides with anemia in women farmer participants.

Toxic compounds can transfer from the blood to other organs and vice versa. Over 300 environmental contaminants and their byproducts, including pesticides, are chemicals commonly present in human blood and urine samples and can increase adverse health risks when crossing the brain barrier. Several studies find pesticide compounds in a mother’s blood can transfer to the fetus via the umbilical cord. Furthermore, a 2021 study finds that pregnant women already have over 100 detectable chemicals in blood and umbilical cord samples, including banned persistent organic pollutants (POPs). However, 89 percent of these chemical contaminants are from unidentified sources, lack adequate information, or were not previously detectable in humans. Blood diseases and disorders can also represent precursors for other severe chronic diseases like cancer. For instance, women with chronic anemia are at greater risk for certain cancers and other serious illnesses. Moreover, persistent symptoms from anemia can increase the risk for fatigue, heart palpitations, headaches, mood changes, infertility, poor circulation, and heart failure in severe cases.

This study is one of the few to identify an association between pesticides and anemia development. Blood tests analyzed the effects pesticide use over three days has on health indicators. Pesticide exposure significantly affected the percentage of monocytes and red blood cells, hemoglobin, average blood cell volume, the average concentration of red blood cell hemoglobin, red blood cell distribution, platelet count, and width of platelet distribution. Although the study shows that effects on health indicators decreased after three days, this may not be the case for farmworkers consistently exposed to pesticides outside of their occupation.

In this study, after exposure to various organochlorine pesticides (e.g., DDT, aldrin, dieldrin, chlordane, and lindane) and organophosphate pesticides, individuals report greater incidents of aplastic anemia. However, studies find long-term exposure to permethrin and legacy organochlorine pesticides increase the risk of developing monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), a blood disease that likely precedes multiple myeloma (MM)—a type of blood cancer. Therefore, the co-occurring risk of blood diseases can result in more severe health consequences and even death. 

It is vital to understand how exposure to environmental pollutants like pesticides can increase chronic disease risk, especially if these diseases can progress to more severe health consequences. Beyond Pesticides tracks the most recent studies on pesticide exposure through our Pesticide Induced Diseases Database (PIDD). This database supports the need for strategic action to shift away from pesticide dependency. For more information, see PIDD pages on body burdensimmune system disorderssexual and reproductive dysfunction, and cancer, among others.

One way to reduce human and environmental contamination from pesticides is by buyinggrowing, and supporting organic. Numerous studies find that pesticide metabolite levels in urine significantly drop when switching to an all-organic diet. Furthermore, given the wide availability of non-pesticidal alternative strategies, families, and farmers can apply these methods to promote a safe and healthy environment, especially among chemically vulnerable individuals. For more information on how organic is the right choice for consumers, see the Beyond Pesticides webpage, Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture. Furthermore, learn more about farmworker protection by visiting Beyond Pesticide’s Agricultural Justice page.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: International Journal of English, Literature and Social Science (IJELS)

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