Watching a loved one endure the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is not an easy matter–it’s been heartbreaking for me, at least. But perhaps even more frustrating are the findings of a new study linking pesticides with the disease. According to a study published in the September issue of the Archives of Neurology, people whose jobs bring them in regular contact with pesticides may be at increased risk for Parkinson’s disease.
I am neither an entomologist nor a medical researcher–but doesn’t it just seem that hardcore chemicals created to kill weeds and insects can’t be that good for us? Yes, we are bigger than weeds and insects, but many people are exposed to these chemicals over extended periods of time–often without a choice. Neurotoxic chemicals are neurotoxic chemicals, whether they be intended for leafhoppers or not.
According to the study, “growing evidence suggests a causal association between pesticide use and parkinsonism. However, the term ‘pesticide’ is broad and includes chemicals with varied mechanisms,” wrote Dr. Caroline M. Tanner of the Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale, Calif., and colleagues. “Because few investigations have identified specific pesticides, we studied eight pesticides with high neurotoxic plausibility based on laboratory findings. Use of these pesticides was associated with higher risk of parkinsonism, more than double that in those not exposed.”
Three compounds–an organic (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid), an herbicide (paraquat), and an insecticide (permethrin)–were associated with a more than threefold increased risk of Parkinson’s, the study found. Laboratory tests have shown that all three compounds have effects on dopaminergic neurons, which are affected by Parkinson’s disease.
“This convergence of epidemiologic and laboratory data from experimental models of Parkinson’s disease lends credence to a causative role of certain pesticides in the neurodegenerative process,” Tanner and colleagues concluded. “Other pesticide exposures, such as hobby gardening, residential exposure, wearing treated garments or dietary intake, were not assessed. Because these exposures may affect more subjects, future attention is warranted.”
As heartbreaking as it is to realize that many of these Parkinson’s cases might have been avoided, it is nonetheless heartening to find an environmental cause–if we can simply remove something from the environment, we can lower the rate of Parkinson’s. Now the questions is: can we simply remove the offending chemicals from the environment?
Here’s how can you help: Urge President Obama to ask the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to investigate a link between occupational pesticide use and American workers–and develop new policies to protect workers accordingly by signing our letter here.