HONOLULU — Weed killer heavyweight Monsato is reportedly facing a slew of new lawsuits by cancer patients or their families that blame the popular pesticide Roundup for the diagnoses. Now, a new study adds to the concerns over pesticide exposure and may have pest exterminators, landscapers, or other lawn care workers thinking twice about their career choices. Researchers at the University of Hawaii say that occupational exposure to high levels of pesticides may raise the risk of heart attack and stroke among otherwise healthy men.
Using data collected by the Kuakini Honolulu Heart Program, researchers say it is of vital importance for exterminators to always wear protective gear while handling such substances and include pesticide exposure in their medical history.
“This study emphasizes the importance of using personal protective equipment during exposure to pesticides on the job and the importance of documenting occupational exposure to pesticides in medical records, as well as controlling standard heart disease risk factors,” explains study co-author Dr. Beatriz L. Rodriguez, a professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Hawaii, in a release.
These findings are just the latest to result from the Kuakini Honolulu Heart Program, which initially enrolled 8,000+ Japanese American men living on the island of Oahu between 1965-1968. At the time of their enrollment, all men were between the ages of 45-68 and self-reported their profession. Since the 1960s, each man has been closely tracked in order for researchers to record any and all disease diagnoses and causes of death. More specifically, followup data on rates of heart disease and stroke was made available to this study’s authors through the year 1999, or for a 34-year followup period (1965-1999).
Pesticide exposure levels were estimated using a scale provided by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which evaluated the intensity and length of occupational exposure to pesticides depending on each man’s self-reported occupation.
Using the first 10 years’ worth of followup data, researchers found that men who were exposed to high levels of pesticides at work were roughly 45% more at risk of suffering a stroke or developing heart disease. However, low-to-medium levels of pesticide exposure did not result in an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Researchers noted that pesticides have a particularly long half-life, meaning it could take years for negative health effects to develop after initial exposure. That being said, after analyzing different time lags, they found that any negative health effects from pesticides at work would present themselves within 10 years of exposure.
“After following the men for 34 years, the link between being exposed to pesticides at work and heart disease and stroke was no longer significant. This was probably because other factors tied to aging became more important, masking the possible relation of pesticides and cardiovascular disease later in life,” Dr. Rodriguez says.
This study only consisted of Japanese-American men, so the authors say their findings may not apply to women or people of other races. However, previous research on the subject has also been conducted in Taiwan, which resulted in similar findings among a middle-aged population sample.
“Previous studies have found that men and women may respond differently to pesticide exposure. One class of pesticides may give women heart attacks but not men and other pesticides may give men heart disease but not women. Hormones may also play a role in the impact of pesticide exposure and the development of cardiovascular disease,” comments study co-author Dr. Zara Berg.
The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.