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Is Your Weed Killer Killing You?

Tim Boyer's picture
Weed Killing

Researchers report in the current issue of the medical journal Neurology that a strong association exists between exposure to weed and pest killing chemicals with the development of Parkinson’s Disease.

Parkinson’s Disease is a neurological disorder that affects motor control of the muscles due to a loss of dopamine-producing brain cells, of which the dopamine is needed to help coordinate smooth and balanced muscle movement. Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive deteriorating disease typically seen in patients 50 and above that usually manifests as uncontrolled tremors or shaking of the hands.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease include:

• An uncontrollable tremor or trembling in the extremities, jaw and face
• Stiffness of the limbs and trunk
• Slow movement
• Impaired balance and coordination

As the disease progresses, the ability to walk, speak, chew and swallow food, sleep soundly, and have normal elimination of bodily waste becomes increasingly difficult for some, thereby often requiring constant medical attention and nursing assistance. For others, symptoms may be less disabling allowing the patient to function on their own

The cause(s) of the disease is currently unknown, but is believed to have a genetic component that is associated in some families, but is absent in others. One potential external cause investigated is that of environmental poisons that can affect the nervous system—particularly weed and insect poisons.

In a meta-analysis study that took data from a total of 104 case studies out of 3,087 citations that met the requirements for statistical analysis, researchers from Italy investigated the risk of Parkinson’s Disease associated with exposure to pesticides and solvents. From the data, they evaluated whether potentially increased exposure, such as country living, work occupation and well water drinking could be a factor behind who is affected.

What the researchers found was an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease by 33% to 80% in people who had been exposed to bug or weed killers and other types of chemical solvents. People who lived in rural farming areas were significantly linked with this increased risk.

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“Due to this association, there was also a link between farming or country living and developing Parkinson’s in some of the studies,” says study author Emanuele Cereda in a press release issued by the American Academy of Neurology.

The authors report that exposure to weed killer chemicals such as paraquat, or the fungicides maneb and mancozeb, are associated with twice the risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease.

“We didn’t study whether the type of exposure, such as whether the compound was inhaled or absorbed through the skin and the method of application, such as spraying or mixing, affected Parkinson’s risk,” said Cereda. “However, our study suggests that the risk increases in a dose response manner as the length of exposure to these chemicals increases.”

The authors concluded that exposure to pesticides or solvents is a risk factor for Parkinson’s Disease and that further studies are needed to establish a cause-effect relationship with a focus on the specific chemical agents used in many commercial weed and pest killing products.

To prevent or decrease exposure to chemical agents in weed and pest killing products that you may be using in your home this spring and summer, recommendations include:

• Read and follow all directions on the label of the product.
• Wear disposable gloves.
• Wear some form of protective mask over the nose and mouth and goggles as well, as mucous membranes can rapidly absorb trace amounts of chemicals.
• Wear shoes that cover the feet (no sandals) and long legged pants while spraying.
• Do not spray when it is breezy.
• Do not place chemically treated lawn clippings or other plants into your compost pile if you will be using the compost for vegetable gardening.
• Isolate pets away from sprayed plants and be sure that their outdoor water bowl is removed too.
• Immediately change clothes and wash thoroughly after spraying.
• Store all weed and pest killers out of reach of curious little hands.

For information about alternatives to using commercial weed killers, click on the titled link “Protect Children and Pets with Natural Weed Killers and Save Money this Summer” for an informative article that can help protect you from potentially developing Parkinson's Disease.

Image Source: Courtesy of PhotoBucket

Reference: “Exposure to pesticides or solvents and risk of Parkinson disease” Neurology May 28, 2013 Vol. 80 no. 22, pp. 2035-2041; Gianni Pezzoli, MD and Emanuele Cereda, MD, PhD.