Organic solvent exposure and depressive symptoms among licensed pesticide applicators in the Agricultural Health Study

Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2017 Nov;90(8):849-857. doi: 10.1007/s00420-017-1245-8. Epub 2017 Jul 12.


Purpose: Although organic solvents are often used in agricultural operations, neurotoxic effects of solvent exposure have not been extensively studied among farmers. The current analysis examined associations between questionnaire-based metrics of organic solvent exposure and depressive symptoms among farmers.

Methods: Results from 692 male Agricultural Health Study participants were analyzed. Solvent type and exposure duration were assessed by questionnaire. An "ever-use" variable and years of use categories were constructed for exposure to gasoline, paint/lacquer thinner, petroleum distillates, and any solvent. Depressive symptoms were ascertained with the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D); scores were analyzed separately as continuous (0-60) and dichotomous (<16 versus ≥16) variables. Multivariate linear and logistic regression models were used to estimate crude and adjusted associations between measures of solvent exposure and CES-D score.

Results: Forty-one percent of the sample reported some solvent exposure. The mean CES-D score was 6.5 (SD 6.4; median 5; range 0-44); 92% of the sample had a score below 16. After adjusting for covariates, statistically significant associations were observed between ever-use of any solvent, long duration of any solvent exposure, ever-use of gasoline, ever-use of petroleum distillates, and short duration of petroleum distillate exposure and continuous CES-D score (p < 0.05). Although nearly all associations were positive, fewer statistically significant associations were observed between metrics of solvent exposure and the dichotomized CES-D variable.

Conclusions: Solvent exposures were associated with depressive symptoms among farmers. Efforts to limit exposure to organic solvents may reduce the risk of depressive symptoms among farmers.

Keywords: CES-D; Depressive symptoms; Epidemiology; Farmers; Organic solvent exposure.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Agriculture*
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Iowa
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • North Carolina
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Organic Chemicals / adverse effects
  • Pesticides
  • Risk Factors
  • Solvents / adverse effects*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Organic Chemicals
  • Pesticides
  • Solvents