One of every 300 people in the United States has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, an incurable neurological disease. The disease’s symptoms begin with slight tremors and often progress to “severe muscle control difficulties that leave sufferers struggling to talk and walk.
According to an article published on scientificamerican.com, people who live in rural areas and drink water pumped from private wells are more prone to develop Parkinson’s disease later in life. A California study found that farm pesticides may be, in part, responsible for the Parkinson’s disease rate in rural areas.
Over the last several years, a growing body of evidence has convinced health care researchers and experts that certain pesticides attack developing brains during pregnancy or infancy, leading to Parkinson’s disease and other neurological diseases later in life. Several insecticides extensively applied on fields are powerful neurotoxins. In some studies, lab animals that were exposed to insecticides developed symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Moreover, several earlier studies conducted on farmers and rural residents showed a link between insecticides and Parkinson’s disease.
This study of over 700 people living in California’s Central Valley discovered that residents who drank potentially contaminated private well water had a higher incidence of Parkinson’s disease. The risk rate was nearly 90 percent higher for individuals with private wells close to fields sprayed with the commonly used insecticides, propargite, or chlorpyrifos.
According to UCLA epidemiology professor Beate Ritz, individuals with Parkinson’s disease were found to have consumed private well water and consumed it an average of 4.3 years longer than people who did not have Parkinson’s disease. This health study is published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Private wells are typically unregulated and are not checked regularly for contaminants. Private water wells are dug at shallow depths, and some of the crop herbicides and insecticides seep into groundwater, contaminating the wells.
The strongest connection to Parkinson’s disease was propargite. People who had private water wells close to fields sprayed with propargite had a 90 percent increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. Propargite is used on grapes, nuts, and corn, according to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation’s database. Propargite is sold by the names Omite and Comite. The chemical was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) back in 1996 due to its cancer risk. However, the EPA approved propargite’s continued use on restricted crops and as long as levels in drinking water were below levels of concern.
Other insecticides, such as methomyl and chlorpyrifos, were found to increase the risk of Parkinson’s by 67 percent and 87 percent, respectively. Chlorpyrifos is sold under the names Lorsban and Dursban. Methomyl is a highly restricted chemical due to its toxicity and is still used on alfalfa fields.
In recent years, researchers and medical scientists have accumulated a substantial amount of animal and human evidence showing that exposure to agricultural pesticides, especially early in life, plays a significant role in who develops Parkinson’s disease.
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