Exposure of Young Children Working on Mexican Tobacco Plantations to Organophosphorous and Carbamic Pesticides, Indicated by Cholinesterase Depression

Child Care Health Dev. 2007 May;33(3):246-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2214.2006.00702.x.


Background: Organophosphorous (OP) and carbamic pesticides are used in large quantities on tobacco plantations in Nayarit State, Mexico, where up to 3000 children and their families work. OP and carbamic pesticides are easily inhaled or absorbed through the skin and children may be particularly vulnerable to pesticides because of their smaller body mass, their height and more regular hand-mouth contact. The aim of this study is to assess the effect of pesticide exposure on acetylcholinesterase levels of very young migrant Mexican tobacco workers and younger siblings.

Methods: Blood samples were collected from 160 children aged 0-14 years during harvest (exposure) and from 62 children in their home communities 6-9 months after harvest (baseline). Samples were tested for cholinesterase corrected for haemoglobin and ambient temperature.

Results: Fifteen per cent of children had depression scores ranging from -40% to 190% of their baseline levels. Thirty-three per cent of children had depression scores of at least 15% and 86% of children were anaemic.

Conclusion: These results suggest that very young children are exposed to potentially harmful and toxic amounts of pesticides while working. Further research is needed to assess the actual acute and chronic health impacts of such exposures.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholinesterase / blood*
  • Adolescent
  • Agriculture
  • Anemia / chemically induced
  • Anemia / epidemiology
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Carbamates / toxicity*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cholinesterases / blood
  • Employment
  • Female
  • Hemoglobins / analysis
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Insecticides / toxicity*
  • Male
  • Mexico
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Organophosphorus Compounds / toxicity*
  • Pesticide Residues / toxicity*
  • Tobacco


  • Biomarkers
  • Carbamates
  • Hemoglobins
  • Insecticides
  • Organophosphorus Compounds
  • Pesticide Residues
  • Acetylcholinesterase
  • Cholinesterases