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California researchers have now linked a third type of pesticide, ziram with Parkinson's disease.
In a follow-up study to their 2009 findings, the UCLA scientists studied not only people who lived and worked in or near fields that were sprayed, but non-farmworkers like teachers, firefighters and clerks who worked near the fields.
They found that the combined exposure to ziram, maneb and paraquat near any workplace increased the risk of Parkinson's disease (PD) threefold, while combined exposure to ziram and paraquat alone was associated with an 80 percent increase in risk. The results appear in the current online edition of the European Journal of Epidemiology.
"Our estimates of risk for ambient exposure in the workplaces were actually greater than for exposure at residences," said Dr. Beate Ritz, senior author and a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA School of Public Health. "And, of course, people who both live and work near these fields experience the greatest risk. These workplace results give us independent confirmation of our earlier work that focused only on residences, and of the damage these chemicals are doing."
In addition, Ritz noted, this is the first study that provides strong evidence in humans that the combination of the three chemicals confers a greater risk of Parkinson's than exposure to the individual chemicals alone. Because these pesticides affect different mechanisms leading to cell death, they may act together to increase the risk of developing the disorder: Those exposed to all three experienced the greatest increase in risk.
"Our results suggest that pesticides affecting different cellular mechanisms that contribute to dopaminergic neuron death may act together to increase the risk of PD considerably," said Ritz, who holds a joint appointment in the UCLA Department of Neurology.
Scientists knew that in animal models and cell cultures, such pesticides trigger a neurodegenerative process that leads to Parkinson's, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that often impairs motor skills, speech and other functions and for which there is no cure. The disease has been reported to occur at high rates among farmers and in rural populations, contributing to the hypothesis that agricultural pesticides may be partially responsible.
In the past, data on human exposure had been unavailable, largely because it had been too hard to measure an individual's environmental exposure to any specific pesticide.
"This stuff drifts," Ritz said. "It's borne by the wind and can wind up on plants and animals, float into open doorways or kitchen windows — up to several hundred meters from the fields."
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