Neurobehavioral performance of adult and adolescent agricultural workers.Neurotoxicology. 2007 Mar; 28(2):374-80.N
There are many occupational hazards associated with working in agriculture including risk of injury and exposure to pesticides. Research examining neurobehavioral effects of pesticide exposure have focused primarily on the acute effects in adults working in agriculture. Organophosphate poisoned populations have shown a consistent pattern of deficits when compared to a non-exposed or non-poisoned population on measures of motor speed and coordination, sustained attention, and information processing speed. Fewer studies have examined the effect of long-term low-level exposure on nervous system functioning in agricultural workers. Pesticides are thought to pose a considerably higher risk to children than to adults, yet little is known about the extent or magnitude of health problems related to occupational exposure to pesticides in children and adolescents. The present study compared the neurobehavioral performance of adolescents and adults working in agriculture and examined the impact of years working in agriculture on neurobehavioral performance. One hundred seventy-five Hispanic adolescent and adults completed a neurobehavioral test battery consisting of 10 computer-based tests measuring attention, response speed, coordination and memory. Age, gender, school experience, and years working in agriculture all impacted performance on the neurobehavioral tests. Comparison of adult and adolescents did not reveal decreased neurobehavioral performance in adolescents. On several tests the adolescents performed better than adult counterparts. The adolescents and adults were engaged in comparable agricultural working environments at the time of the neurobehavioral testing. These findings suggest that, at the time of exposure to pesticides, adolescents are not more vulnerable to the effects of working in agriculture. Evidence from this study suggests that cumulative exposure to low levels of pesticides over many years of agricultural work is associated with neurological impairment as measured by the Selective Attention, Symbol-Digit, Reaction Time tests. Experience handling pesticides was also associated with deficits in neurobehavioral performance.