Pesticide use and incident Parkinson's disease in a cohort of farmers and their spouses

Environ Res. 2020 Dec:191:110186. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2020.110186. Epub 2020 Sep 10.


Background: Extensive literature suggests an association between general pesticide use and Parkinson's disease (PD). However, with few exceptions, little is known about associations between specific pesticides and PD.

Objective: We evaluated use of pesticides and incident PD in 38,274 pesticide applicators and 27,836 of their spouses in the Agricultural Health Study cohort followed over 20 years.

Methods: We used self-reported information on ever-use of 50 specific pesticides as of enrollment for both applicators and spouses, and considered intensity-weighted lifetime days (IWLD) reported at enrollment and through the first 5-year follow-up among applicators. We estimated covariate-adjusted hazard ratios (HR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) using Cox regression. We also examined heterogeneity in associations by history of head injury and chemical resistant glove use.

Results: A total of 373 applicators and 118 spouses self-reported incident doctor-diagnosed PD. Ever-use of the insecticide terbufos (HR:1.31, 95%CI:1.02-1.68) and the herbicides trifluralin (HR:1.29, 95%CI: 0.99-1.70) and 2,4,5-T (HR:1.57, 95%CI:1.21-2.04) was associated with elevated PD risk. On the other hand, diazinon (HR:0.73, 95%CI: 0.58-0.94) and 2,4,5-TP (HR:0.39, 95%CI:0.25-0.62) were associated with reduced risk. We observed heterogeneity in ever-use associations by head injury and chemical-resistant glove use for some pesticides, with higher risk among those who reported a history of head injury, or who did not use gloves. PD risk was also elevated for applicators in the highest category of IWLD for dichlorvos, permethrin (animal use), and benomyl.

Conclusions: We found evidence of increased PD risk for some pesticides. Our results also suggest higher susceptibility for pesticide-associated PD among individuals with head injury as well as protection with use of chemical resistant gloves, although further research is needed to understand the impact of head injury. Research on current and newer pesticides, including mechanisms relevant to PD, is important given widespread pesticide use.

Keywords: Agricultural health study; Farmers; Parkinson's disease; Pesticides.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Cohort Studies
  • Farmers
  • Humans
  • Iowa
  • North Carolina
  • Occupational Exposure* / adverse effects
  • Parkinson Disease* / epidemiology
  • Parkinson Disease* / etiology
  • Pesticides* / toxicity
  • Spouses


  • Pesticides