Rheumatoid Arthritis in Agricultural Health Study Spouses: Associations with Pesticides and Other Farm Exposures

Environ Health Perspect. 2016 Nov;124(11):1728-1734. doi: 10.1289/EHP129. Epub 2016 Jun 10.


Background: Farming has been associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but the role of pesticides is not known.

Objectives: We examined associations between RA and pesticides or other agricultural exposures among female spouses of licensed pesticide applicators in the Agricultural Health Study.

Methods: Women were enrolled between 1993 and 1997 and followed through 2010. Cases (n = 275 total, 132 incident), confirmed by a physician or by self-reported use of disease modifying antirheumatic drugs, were compared with noncases (n = 24,018). Odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were estimated using logistic regression models adjusted for age, state, and smoking pack-years.

Results: Overall, women with RA were somewhat more likely to have reported lifetime use of any specific pesticide versus no pesticides (OR = 1.4; 95% CI: 1.0, 1.6). Of the 15 pesticides examined, maneb/mancozeb (OR = 3.3; 95% CI: 1.5, 7.1) and glyphosate (OR = 1.4; 95% CI: 1.0, 2.1) were associated with incident RA compared with no pesticide use. An elevated, but non-statistically significant association with incident RA was seen for DDT (OR = 1.9; 95% CI: 0.97, 3.6). Incident RA was also associated with the application of chemical fertilizers (OR = 1.7; 95% CI: 1.1, 2.7) and cleaning with solvents (OR = 1.6; 95% CI: 1.1, 2.4), but inversely associated with lifetime livestock exposure as a child and adult (OR = 0.48; 95% CI: 0.24, 0.97) compared with no livestock exposure.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that specific agricultural pesticides, solvents, and chemical fertilizers may increase the risk of RA in women, while exposures involving animal contact may be protective. Citation: Parks CG, Hoppin JA, De Roos AJ, Costenbader KH, Alavanja MC, Sandler DP. 2016. Rheumatoid arthritis in Agricultural Health Study spouses: associations with pesticides and other farm exposures. Environ Health Perspect 124:1728-1734; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/EHP129.

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / epidemiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Farmers*
  • Female
  • Fertilizers / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Pesticides / toxicity*
  • Solvents / toxicity
  • Spouses*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Fertilizers
  • Pesticides
  • Solvents