Neurologic symptoms in licensed private pesticide applicators in the agricultural health study

Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Jul;113(7):877-82. doi: 10.1289/ehp.7645.


Exposure to high levels of many pesticides has both acute and long-term neurologic consequences, but little is known about the neurotoxicity of chronic exposure to moderate levels of pesticides. We analyzed cross-sectional data from 18,782 white male licensed private pesticide applicators enrolled in the Agricultural Health Study in 1993-1997. Applicators provided information on lifetime pesticide use and 23 neurologic symptoms typically associated with pesticide intoxication. An indicator of more symptoms (> or = 10 vs. < 10) during the year before enrollment was associated with cumulative lifetime days of insecticide use: odds ratios (95% confidence intervals) were 1.64 (1.36-1.97) for 1-50 days, 1.89 (1.58-2.25) for 51-500 days, and 2.50 (2.00-3.13) for > 500 days, compared with never users. A modest association for fumigants [> 50 days, 1.50 (1.24-1.81)] and weaker relationships for herbicides [> 500 days, 1.32 (0.99-1.75)] and fungicides [> 50 days, 1.23 (1.00-1.50)] were observed. Pesticide use within the year before enrollment was not associated with symptom count. Only associations with insecticides and fumigants persisted when all four pesticide groups were examined simultaneously. Among chemical classes of insecticides, associations were strongest for organophosphates and organochlorines. Associations with cumulative exposure persisted after excluding individuals who had a history of pesticide poisoning or had experienced an event involving high personal pesticide exposure. These results suggest that self-reported neurologic symptoms are associated with cumulative exposure to moderate levels of fumigants and organophosphate and organochlorine insecticides, regardless of recent exposure or history of poisoning.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / epidemiology
  • Agrochemicals / adverse effects
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated / adverse effects
  • Iowa / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Nervous System Diseases / epidemiology
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Organophosphorus Compounds / adverse effects
  • Pesticides / adverse effects*


  • Agrochemicals
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Organophosphorus Compounds
  • Pesticides