Neurobehavioral performance and work experience in Florida farmworkers

Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Nov;111(14):1765-72. doi: 10.1289/ehp.6341.


Farmworkers experience many work-related hazards, including exposure to neurotoxicants. We compared neurobehavioral performance of 288 farmworkers in central Florida who had done farm work for at least 1 month with 51 controls who had not. Most of the farmworkers had worked in one or more of three types of agriculture: ornamental ferns, nurseries, or citrus fruit. We collected information on farm work history in a structured interview and evaluated neurobehavioral performance using a battery of eight tests. Analyses were adjusted for established confounders including age, sex, education, and acculturation. Ever having done farm work was associated with poor performance on four tests--digit span [odds ratio (OR) = 1.90; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.02-3.53], tapping (coefficient = 4.13; 95% CI, 0.00-8.27), Santa Ana test (coefficient = 1.34; 95% CI, 0.29-2.39), and postural sway (coefficient = 4.74; 95% CI, -2.20 to 11.7)--but had little effect on four others: symbol digit latency, vibrotactile threshold, visual contrast sensitivity, and grip strength. Associations with farm work were similar in magnitude to associations with personal characteristics such as age and sex. Longer duration of farm work was associated with worse performance. Associations with fern work were more consistent than associations with nursery or citrus work. Deficits related to the duration of work experience were seen in former as well as current farmworkers, and decreased performance was related to chronic exposure even in the absence of a history of pesticide poisoning. We conclude that long-term experience of farm work is associated with measurable deficits in cognitive and psychomotor function.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Agriculture*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Florida
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Skills Disorders / etiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pesticides / poisoning*


  • Pesticides