Peripheral nervous system function and organophosphate pesticide use among licensed pesticide applicators in the Agricultural Health Study

Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Apr;120(4):515-20. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1103944. Epub 2012 Jan 19.


Background: Evidence is limited that long-term human exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides, without poisoning, is associated with adverse peripheral nervous system (PNS) function.

Objective: We investigated associations between OP pesticide use and PNS function by administering PNS tests to 701 male pesticide applicators in the Agricultural Health Study (AHS).

Methods: Participants completed a neurological physical examination (NPx) and electrophysiological tests as well as tests of hand strength, sway speed, and vibrotactile threshold. Self-reported information on lifetime use of 16 OP pesticides was obtained from AHS interviews and a study questionnaire. Associations between pesticide use and measures of PNS function were estimated with linear and logistic regression controlling for age and outcome-specific covariates.

Results: Significantly increased odds ratios (ORs) were observed for associations between ever use of 10 of the 16 OP pesticides and one or more of six NPx outcomes. Most notably, abnormal toe proprioception was significantly associated with ever use of 6 OP pesticides, with ORs ranging from 2.03 to 3.06; monotonic increases in strength of association with increasing use was observed for 3 of the 6 pesticides. Mostly null associations were observed between OP pesticide use and electrophysiological tests, hand strength, sway speed, and vibrotactile threshold.

Conclusions: This study provides some evidence that long-term exposure to OP pesticides is associated with signs of impaired PNS function among pesticide applicators.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / epidemiology
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / physiopathology
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Iowa / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced
  • Nervous System Diseases / epidemiology
  • Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Organophosphorus Compounds / toxicity*
  • Peripheral Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Peripheral Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Pesticides / toxicity*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Regression Analysis
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Organophosphorus Compounds
  • Pesticides