EERC-Led Study Addresses Critical Potential Public Health Risks Related to Pesticide Exposure


Press Release


July 27, 2006 (GRAND FORKS, NORTH DAKOTA) — Preliminary results of a project to reduce health risks from pesticide exposure, led by the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) at the University of North Dakota (UND), verify that exposure to pesticides can induce pathological changes to the nervous system. The pesticide impact program is a strategic effort between the EERC, the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the College of Nursing, the Psychology Department, and several state and federal agencies.

The EERC team is evaluating how humans are exposed to pesticides so strategies can be developed to reduce health effects for at-risk populations.

“The results of this study are phenomenally relevant to our region and have global implications,” said EERC Director Gerald Groenewold. “North Dakota is the perfect laboratory to perform this testing as the state’s main industry is agriculture. Airborne pesticides are more prevalent in our state relative to other classes of pollutants, which makes their effects easier to detect.”

During the first year of research, laboratory testing on rats demonstrated that the areas of the brain showing change following pesticide exposure are the same areas involved in multiple sclerosis. Results also show pesticide exposure damages the same brain areas linked to epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s. Pesticides can also cause severe damage to the gastrointestinal system and cause neurological dysfunction.

“Such results may lead to behavioral or biochemical characteristics that will facilitate better diagnosis of pesticide-related illness and help physicians take appropriate steps to treat them,” said Patrick Carr, Associate Professor, Anatomy and Cell Biology, UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“Ultimately, the program will result in the determination of how humans are exposed to pesticides and the development of strategies to help us reduce our exposure-related risks,” said EERC Senior Research Advisor Ed Steadman. “Over the past year, we evaluated the relationships between locations where pesticides are being used and any incidences of neurological symptoms in those areas, as well as characterized the effect specific pesticides have on the nervous system.” Those data are currently being analyzed and will be used to guide future research on how humans are exposed.

The EERC received initial funding of $496,000 in 2005 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and is currently pursuing funding to continue this vital research. The extent of human exposure, precise mechanisms, and pathology and correlation of health data with pesticide data can only be accomplished through further, extended investigations.

“Within the next few years, this EERC-led partnership will be able to provide objective answers to globally critical questions related to the potential relationship between pesticides and the incidence of neurological diseases,” Groenewold said.

Disclaimer: This project was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The views expressed herein are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC.

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For more information contact: Gerald Groenewold, EERC Director, at (701) 777-5131 or

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