Effects of occupational pesticide exposure on children applying pesticides

Neurotoxicology. 2008 Sep;29(5):833-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2008.06.009. Epub 2008 Jul 9.


Nearly 40% of the Egyptian workforce is employed in agriculture. The cotton industry relies on children and adolescents, who work seasonally, to apply pesticides to the cotton crops. Although previous research has examined adult pesticide exposures in this workforce in Egypt, no research has examined the health effects in adolescents. This study attempts to systematically replicate findings examining the impact of organophosphate pesticide (OP) exposure in adults on Arabic speaking children working as applicators. The aim of this study was to examine the impact of pesticide exposure on children and adolescents spraying cotton fields. Male children currently applying pesticides between the ages of 9 and 15 (Younger, n=30) and 16 and 19 (Older, n=20) were recruited for the study. They completed a neurobehavioral test battery; personality inventory; work, health, and exposure questionnaires; and medical and neurological screening exams. Blood samples were collected to measure acetylcholinesterase. Children not working in agriculture, matched on age and education, served as controls. Both Younger and Older applicator groups, performed significantly worse than the controls on the majority of neurobehavioral tests controlling for age and years of education. The applicators reported significantly more neurological symptoms than the controls and had lower acetylcholinesterase activity. A dose-effect relationship demonstrated that increased years of exposure to organophosphate pesticides is associated with cognitive deficits. This is one of the several studies demonstrating that functional cognitive effects are positively correlated with increased years of exposure to OP pesticides, though primarily in adult populations, building confidence in the association. Since children around the world are exposed to OP pesticides, these studies suggest that the need to evaluate this potential problem is urgent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholinesterase / blood
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / blood
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / epidemiology
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / etiology
  • Behavior / drug effects*
  • Child
  • Child Development / drug effects
  • Egypt
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nervous System Diseases / etiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Occupational Exposure* / statistics & numerical data
  • Pesticides / toxicity*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Pesticides
  • Acetylcholinesterase