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Pesticides may alter brain function.

Pesticides may alter brain function

A recently released study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency indicates that there is a link between exposure to poisonous doses of agricultural pesticides known as organophosphates and a number of neuropsychological problems, including depression, irritability and difficulties in thinking, memory and communication.

Organophosphates such as parathion and malathion have been used in agriculture and other industries for several decades, says study director Eldon P. Savage of Colorado State University in Ft. Collins. This group of chemicals, he adds, accounted for at least one-quarter of hospitalizations for pesticide poisoning in the United States from 1971 to 1976.

Long-term effects of organophosphates on brain function are poorly understood, notes Savage, who worked with scientists at Colorado State, the University of Colorado Medical Center in Denver and texas Tech University School of Medicine in San Benito. The study sample consisted of 100 people--mostly agricultural workers--who had been exposed to a poisonous dose of organophosphates at least once between 1950 and 1976, and 100 controls matched for age, sex, race and economic status.

No significant difference was found between poison cases and controls on physical examinations, hearing and eye tests, brain wave measures and blood tests. Poison cases scored markedly worse, however, on measures of depression, intellectual functioning, academic skills, abstraction and flexibility of thinking and simple motor skills. They also performed at a lower level on tests of reading recognition and comprehension, written verbal fluency, problem solving and spelling.

Furthermore, people in the exposed group reported more memory, language and thinking problems. These include difficulties in understanding the speech of others, recognizing printed or written words and remembering the names of objects. Poison cases, adds Savage, also reported slightly more paranoia, irritability, social withdrawal, anxiety and sensitivity to criticism.

Because exposed subjects were screened for diseases or injuries that might aggravate neuropsychological problems, in addition to being carefully matched with healthy controls, "it is likely that the excess deficits recorded [for poison cases] are due to organophosphate exposure," concludes Savage.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 8, 1986
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