Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Pesticides Are Associated with Allergic and Non-Allergic Wheeze among Male Farmers

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Pesticides Are Associated with Allergic and Non-Allergic Wheeze among Male Farmers

Article excerpt


Worldwide, more than 5 billion pounds of pesticide active ingredients are used annually (U.S. EPA 2011a). Pesticides represent a diverse group of chemical and physical agents that have varying toxicity for both plants and animals. Pesticide exposure is common in both agricultural and residential settings; approximately 15% of the insecticides and 8% of herbicides used in the United States are for residential use. Many of the same chemicals are used in both agricultural and residential settings (U.S. EPA 2011a).

Although little is known about the potential respiratory impact of most currently used pesticides, evidence is growing that pesticide exposures contribute to respiratory symptoms and asthma. Case reports suggest that organophosphate insecticides (Bryant 1985; Weiner 1961), 2,4-D (Forbes et al. 1966), and pyrethroids (Lessenger 1992; Newton and Breslin 1983; Wagner 2000) are associated with asthma or asthmatic symptoms. Epidemiologic studies of farmers, farmworkers and commercial pesticide applicators have linked specific pesticides, including paraquat, chlorpyrifos and other organophosphates, and pyrethroids to asthma and wheeze (Castro-Gutierrez et al. 1997; Fieten et al. 2009; Hoppin et al. 2002a, 2006, 2008, 2009; Liu et al. 2012; Ohayo-Mitoko et al. 2000; Raanan et al. 2015). Biologic mechanisms have been evaluated in animal studies for specific chemicals, including paraquat, carbaryl, and some organophosphate insecticides (Cho et al. 2008; Dong et al. 1998; Fryer et al. 2004). Large epidemiologic studies provide the opportunity to focus on specific chemicals rather than general categories of pesticide exposure such as insecticides.

To evaluate whether currently used pesticides are associated with respiratory symptoms, we used recent data from the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), a prospective study of licensed pesticide applicators and their spouses in Iowa (IA) and North Carolina (NC) (Hoppin et al. 2014). In the 2005-2010 interview, participants provided information on their current pesticide use as well as recent respiratory symptoms. Building on our earlier work (Hoppin et al. 2002a, 2006, 2008, 2009) and animal data that suggest differential effects for allergen-sensitized animals (Proskocil et al. 2008), we evaluated associations of current pesticide use with both allergic and non-allergic wheeze in male pesticide applicators. This paper includes updated analyses for 27 of the 40 pesticides previously evaluated for wheeze (Hoppin et al. 2002a, 2006) as well as initial analyses for 51 additional pesticides; chemicals with infrequent or no use during this period were not evaluated.

Materials and Methods Population

We assessed pesticide exposures and wheeze among male participants in the AHS who completed the 2005-2010 follow-up interview (Hoppin et al. 2014). Participants completed a computer-aided telephone interview that collected information on current farming activities, pesticide use, medical conditions, and other demographic factors. The response rate was 51% for farmers, with the majority of nonresponse associated with our inability to contact them by phone (Hoppin et al. 2014). Questionnaires are available at http://aghealth. All individuals with data on wheeze and hay fever as well as all model covariates were included. We restricted the sample to men as both the exposure profile and the risk factors differed by gender in the AHS. The AHS has been reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Boards of the National Institues of Health (NIH) and its contractors. All participants in the AHS provided informed consent when they enrolled in the study.


The outcome in our analyses had three levels: no wheeze (controls), allergic wheeze, and non-allergic wheeze. This three-level outcome allowed us to assess differential response to pesticides based on allergic status. We defined a participant as having wheeze if he reported having at least one episode of wheeze or whistling in his chest in the past year. …

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