Background: Although the acute effects of pesticides in humans are well known, uncertainty still exists about the health effects of chronic low-level exposure to pesticides.
Aims: To compare mortality and cancer incidence experienced by a cohort of British pesticide users to that of the Great Britain (GB) population.
Methods: The Pesticide Users Health Study (PUHS) comprises users of agricultural pesticides who have Certificates of Competence under the Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986. Participants were followed up between 1987 and 2004 (cancer incidence) or 2005 (mortality). Standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) and Standardized incidence ratios (SIRs) were estimated for outcomes of interest identified from the literature.
Results: Altogether, 62,960 pesticide users were followed up for 829,709 person-years (to 31 December 2005). Most participants were male (94%) and based in England (86%). All-cause mortality was lower for both men [SMR 0.58, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.55-0.60] and women (SMR 0.71, 95% CI 0.52-0.98) compared to the GB population. Mortality and incidence were below those expected for all cancers combined among men (SMR 0.71, 95% CI 0.66-0.77; SIR 0.85, 95% CI 0.81-0.90), particularly for cancers of the lip, oral cavity and pharynx, digestive organs and respiratory system. The incidence of testicular cancer, non-melanoma skin cancer and multiple myeloma were above expected. Mortality from injury by machinery was significantly above expected for men (SMR 4.21, 95% CI 2.11-8.42).
Conclusions: This study suggests that pesticide users in the PUHS are generally healthier than the national population but may have excesses of non-melanoma skin cancer, testicular cancer and multiple myeloma.