Study Links Neurological Diseases to Pesticide Exposure

(Beyond Pesticides, August 11, 2006)

The preliminary results of an ongoing study, led by the University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC), add to the growing body of evidence linking pesticides to neurological changes associated with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s. Funded by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the results of the study’s first year showed that the areas of the brain in laboratory-tested rats affected by pesticide exposure are the same areas linked to these disorders.

These findings are consistent with a Harvard School of Public Health study in June 2006 that found a 70% increase in risk for Parkinson’s among individuals exposed to pesticides over those not exposed. This study comes a year after a UK study of 3,000 individuals, which concluded that the higher one’s exposure to pesticides, the greater one’s risk for contracting Parkinson’s. And while the pesticide industry trade group CropLife America calls such studies “unsubstantial,” it acknowledges 31 separate studies finding a connection between pesticide exposure and Parkinson’s.

The longer-term goal of the EERC’s study will be to determine how airborne pesticides affect humans, in order to design strategies to reduce the risk for affected populations. North Dakota provides an ideal stage to test this. As EERC Director Gerald Groenewold said, “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.” This aids a branch of the study designed to show that the most efficient means of human exposure to pesticides is not through food or water, but tiny airborne particles of pollen. As he told Minnesota Public Radio, “Frankly, if there is a link between pesticides and these diseases, I think the very fine pollen is the transport mechanism, and is in some cases you might say the smoking gun.”

Although this is the first year in a proposed four-year study (the EERC is currently seeking additional funding to continue the study), researcher Dr. Patrick Carr emphasized the finding of “physical changes” in the rats’ brains which, with further research, could eventually be correlated to the affects on a person working with pesticides. “What this research says is that we have started to open some doors and shine some light in a very objective fashion, a very comprehensive fashion, on this group of questions,” Groenewold said. “And it says, more than ever, that this research is extremely important not only here in the Red River Valley, but basically globally.”