Effects of long-term organophosphate exposures on neurological symptoms, vibration sense and tremor among South African farm workers

Scand J Work Environ Health. 1998 Feb;24(1):18-29. doi: 10.5271/sjweh.274.


Objectives: This study assessed the relationship between long-term exposure to organophosphate insecticides and neurological symptoms, vibration sense, and motor tremor after control for the effect of past poisoning and acute exposure.

Methods: This cross-sectional study included 164 pesticide applicators and 83 nonspraying reference workers on deciduous fruit farms. The workers were tested on the Vibratron II, on tests of dynamic and static tremor, and for a set of neurological and "dummy" symptoms. Exposure was derived with the use of a job-exposure matrix for pesticides in agriculture.

Results: Compared with nonapplicators, current applicators reported significantly more dizziness, sleepiness, and headache and had a higher overall neurological symptom score. This association remained statistically significant after multiple logistic regression analyses controlling for a range of confounders and effect modifiers [odds ratio (OR) 2.25, for current applicators having high neurological score, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.15-4.39]. The average lifetime intensity of organophosphate exposure was nonsignificantly associated with both neurological (OR 1.98, 95% CI 0.49-7.94) and "dummy" symptoms (OR 2.37, 95% CI 0.54-10.35). Previous pesticide poisoning was significantly associated with the neurological scores (OR 4.08, 95% CI 1.48-11.22) but not with the "dummy" symptoms. Vibration sense outcomes were associated with age and height, but not with the organophosphate exposure measures. In the multiple linear regression modeling for tremor intensity in the dominant hand, recent organophosphate exposure in the past 10 days was a significant predictor (partial correlation coefficient = 0.04), but none of the long-term organophosphate exposure measures were significant.

Conclusions: Strong evidence was found for an association between symptom outcomes and past organophosphate poisoning and between symptom outcomes and current spray activity. In contrast to symptoms, there was no association between either past poisoning or current spray activity and vibration sense or tremor outcome. Long-term organophosphate exposure did not appear to predict symptoms, vibration sense, or tremor outcome.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / epidemiology
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Insecticides / poisoning*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Occupations
  • Organophosphorus Compounds*
  • Prevalence
  • Sensory Thresholds / drug effects
  • South Africa / epidemiology
  • Time Factors
  • Tremor / chemically induced*
  • Vibration*


  • Insecticides
  • Organophosphorus Compounds