Scientists have demonstrated that farm labourers who are exposed to the weedkiller ‘paraquat’ are two to three times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, the degenerative brain condition that leads to paralysis.
A second study showed that animals exposed to paraquat develop a build-up of the protein alpha-synuclein in their brains. Alpha-synuclein has been linked to cell death in Parkinson’s patients
Although the increased risk of Parkinson’s disease in farm workers has been suspected for some time, the link is difficult to prove statistically owing to the long periods of time between the initial exposure to pesticides and the onset of illness. These new studies made a breakthrough by determining pesticide exposure through examination of farm records, determining when pesticides had been bought.
Recent research has suggested that by 2030, the number of people suffering from Parkinson’s in the world’s 15 most populous countries could rise to 8.7 million, an increase of more than 4.6 million on today’s figures.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist April 2007