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Pesticides in well water linked to Parkinson's disease

August 5, 2009 |  9:03 pm

Watermelons

Farmworkers and their families pay for the cheap cost of California produce in more ways than one. Not only do they face low wages and harsh working conditions, but they also endure health effects from the hundreds of millions of pounds of pesticides and fumigants dumped onto fields near their homes annually. 

Now pesticides in private well water have been linked to Parkinson's disease, adding to the list of long-term health risks for people in agricultural areas.

Rural residents who drink from private wells are up to twice as likely to develop Parkinson's from certain pesticides, including methomyl, chlorpyrifos and propargite, a UCLA study has found. People with Parkinson's were more likely to have consumed water from private wells, and had done so for 4.3 years longer on average than people who did not have the disease.

Parkinson's is a disease of the central nervous system that can render patients unable to walk or speak. Complications from the disease are often fatal. Because Parkinson's develops over many years, researchers looked at pesticide data from 1974 to 1999.

Private wells could have higher levels of some chemicals, because they are not regulated under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974.

The study's lead author, Nicole Gatto, said she hoped the results of the study could be used to change the methods of pesticide application by increasing "awareness of how pesticides applied in the environment can affect people's health."

The groundbreaking study from UCLA researchers focused on residents of Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties and used geographic information system mapping and pesticide use data, instead of relying on people's memories. The study is part of a larger project led by Dr. Beate Ritz at UCLA to measure the relationship between Parkinson's and pesticides. 

-- Amy Littlefield

Photo: Workers harvest watermelons near Arvin, in Kern County. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

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