Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Impact of Chronic Pesticide Exposure on Neuropsychological Functioning

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Impact of Chronic Pesticide Exposure on Neuropsychological Functioning

Article excerpt

Chemicals and other unnatural substances are known to impact the brain in negative ways. For instance, alcohol is known to impact cognition and behavior when used excessively and may even lead to the development of alcohol-induced persisting dementia (Oscar-Berman, 2000). Other drugs have an impact on the functioning of the brain and body in a variety of ways (Carlson, 2004; Wise, 1996). Recently, literature has begun to investigate other toxins that individuals may inadvertently expose themselves to through their occupations. Lead has been widely studied and is known to be associated with neuropsychological deficits in a variety of areas, including vocabulary, reaction time, and visuospatial functioning (Weisskopf et al., 2007). It has also been noted that occupational exposure to high amounts of lead may lead to cognitive deficits consistent with advanced aging (Stewart et al., 2006). Other environmental toxins, such as methamphetamine, are also known to contribute to brain dysfunction (Boger et al., 2007). Pesticide chemicals are another widely used toxin, yet research is only beginning to understand the effects of these chemicals on brain and body functioning.

Pesticides are chemicals used to control pests, which can include insects, birds, weeds, plant pathogens, mollusks, biological agents, and any other thing that threatens human life, food, or property (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2007c). These chemicals are used for a variety of purposes in all states, with the heaviest usage being in Midwestern states such as Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio (U.S. Department of the Interior, 2007). Some of the most commonly used types of pesticides in the United States include the herbicides that are used to control weeds and the insecticides that are used to control insects (U.S. Department of the Interior, 2007). These chemicals are used in large quantities to protect the crops that provide food sources for much of the country. The Red River Valley (specifically, the northern portions of North Dakota and Minnesota), where this study was conducted and from where participants were recruited, has approximately 4,764,100 acres and 4,244 farms devoted to farming, with many types of pesticides, insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides used to treat crops. Crops farmed in this area include barley, durum, spring wheat, edible beans, and canola (Moulton, Petros, Pyle, Barr, & Ferraro, in press). In northern North Dakota and Minnesota it is estimated that between .359 and 9.855 pounds per square mile of a common herbicide (Atrazine) is used each year (U.S. Department of the Interior, 2007). This does not include the amounts of these chemicals that are used in homes and gardening (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2007a). Other pesticide chemicals are also used in large quantities, and it is estimated that close to 8 billion dollars is spent on pesticides each year in the United States alone (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2007a).

The benefits of using pesticides are widely known, and these benefits have led to the wide usage discussed previously. Pesticides can be used to terminate insects that transmit infectious diseases to humans and domestic animals, protect foods from becoming contaminated and causing illness, to manage rodents that infest foods, and to help prevent weeds and the damage they could cause (Helfrich, Weighmann, Hipksins, & Stinson, 1996; Whitford et al., 2001). Protecting crops from pests is an important aspect of the agriculture business, and without the use of pesticides, farmers may be at risk for smaller yields (Kuniuki, 2001). Although the use of any chemical carries an associated risk, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors the sales and distribution of pesticides in the United States. The EPA conducts studies to determine how safe each pesticide is and to balance its risks with its associated benefits, or effectiveness against the pest (EPA, 2007b). …

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