An investigation into neurologic and neurobehavioral effects of long-term agrichemical use among deciduous fruit farm workers in the Western Cape, South Africa

Environ Res. 1997;73(1-2):132-45. doi: 10.1006/enrs.1997.3715.


Long-term exposure to organophosphates (OPs) in the absence of acute poisoning is increasingly suspected of causing chronic neurologic and neurobehavioral effects. A cross-sectional survey of 163 spray operators on deciduous fruit farms in the Western Cape, South Africa, and 84 nonspraying labororers was conducted in 1993 to investigate the relationship between long-term OP exposures and neurological and neurobehavioral outcomes. The study also sought to evaluate the performance of a set of neurobehavioral test batteries based on the information-processing theory of cognitive psychology, relative to the more established World Health Organization's Neurobehavioral Core Test Battery (WHO NCTB). These information-processing tests were designed for use in studies of subjects with little education, which are frequently conducted in developing countries in agriculture. They draw on experience from a previous South African study in which problems were encountered with a lack of cross-cultural validity of conventional test batteries. No evidence was found of a relationship between long-term OP exposure and loss of vibration sense. Small associations were found with the NCTB Pursuit-Aiming and Santa Ana (nondominant hand) subtests. The overall evidence of neurologic and neurobehavioral effects of long-term OP exposure was small; exposure misclassification may have contributed to this finding. Important confounders such as brain injury, alcohol consumption, and nutritional status were identified.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / epidemiology
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / physiopathology
  • Agrochemicals / poisoning*
  • Behavior / drug effects*
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Occupational Exposure
  • South Africa / epidemiology


  • Agrochemicals