With any herbicide exposure at work, people were more than twice as
likely to develop COPD by middle age, and workplace pesticide
exposure was associated with 74 percent higher odds of the common
lung disease, researchers report in Thorax.
Over a lifetime, pesticides and herbicides may pose an even bigger
added risk for breathing disorders, the study also found.
Each ten-year increase in occupational exposure to pesticides
carried a 12 percent increased risk of COPD and a 16 percent higher
risk of developing chronic bronchitis. Every extra decade of
herbicide exposure, meanwhile, carried a 22 percent increased risk
of bronchitis, while each ten years of insecticide exposure was
associated with 15 percent higher odds of bronchitis.
“Our study looked at long-term exposure to pesticides, and it is
thought that long-term exposure to pesticides increases mucus
secretion and muscle contraction in the lungs, causing
breathlessness, cough and wheeze,” lead study author Dr. Sheikh Alif
of the University of Melbourne in Australia said by email.
Globally, more than 65 million people have moderate to severe COPD,
and the condition causes about 5 percent of all deaths, according to
the World Health Organization (WHO).
Most cases are caused by smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke,
but working or cooking around certain toxic dusts, chemicals and
fuels can also contribute, as can frequent respiratory infections
For the current study, researchers examined data collected on 1,335
workers from 2002 to 2008, including information on workplace
exposure to pollutants as well as results from breathing tests to
detect COPD and other respiratory issues.
Study participants were 45 year old on average, 87 percent were
currently employed and 25 percent were current smokers.
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Overall, 6 percent of them had COPD, 8.6 percent had chronic
bronchitis, and more than 28 percent reported having asthma
currently or previously.
In addition to risks associated with pesticides and herbicides, the
study also found workers who didn’t have asthma had an increased
risk of COPD when they had any exposure to toxic mineral dust,
gases, fumes and vapors. There didn’t appear to be an association
between exposure to these pollutants and COPD in people with asthma,
The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether
or how exposure to pollutants at work might contribute to COPD,
bronchitis or other breathing problems.
“We can not make firm conclusions about the extent of exposure
needed to cause changes in lung function,” said Dr. Steve Georas, an
environmental health researcher at the University of Rochester in
New York who wasn’t involved in the study.
“We know that single exposures to high levels of some toxicants can
cause long lasting changes in airway function (i.e. chlorine gas),”
Georas said by email. “I suspect that for pesticides and herbicides,
long-term low level exposure may be more important, but this is
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2eUSS9j Thorax, online July 7, 2017.
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