Pesticides & Parkinson’s in California’s Central Valley

Horowitz, J. 2012. Parkinson’s Alley.  Recent studies have found statistical links between pesticide use and an outbreak of Parkinson’s disease in California farm towns. Researchers even know which chemicals are the likely culprits. What’s the government doing about it? Not much. Sierra Magazine.

Some neurologists dub the 300-mile-long string of Central Valley farm towns between Bakersfield and Sacramento “Parkinson’s Alley,” and recently released statistics back them up. A study published last year by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that Central Valley residents under age 60 who lived near fields where the pesticides paraquat and maneb had been used between 1974 and 1999 had a Parkinson’s rate nearly five times higher than other residents in the region. Ziram is also of concern. The EPA banned maneb on corn, grapes and apples in 2005, but still allows it to be used on almonds.

Research into the link between pesticides and Parkinson’s in the Central Valley dates back to 2000, when UCLA epidemiologist Beate Ritz began comparing mortality records with pesticide-application reports. She discovered that California counties reporting the highest pesticide use also had the highest rates for Parkinson’s-related deaths. Examining agricultural records from 1989 to 1994, Ritz found that when insecticides were applied to more than a third of a county’s acreage, the risk of its residents’ dying from Parkinson’s disease increased 2.5-fold. She also found studies that revealed that as many as 40 percent of the area’s Parkinson’s cases are never mentioned on death certificates, possibly because many migrant workers fail to report the disease, or move on before symptoms arise.

Ritz and her research team found that Central Valley residents who consumed private well water and lived within 500 feet of farmland with documented long-term pesticide use were almost twice as likely to get Parkinson’s disease. In the Visalia area, over 1 million people have tap water that isn’t safe to drink because of nitrate contamination from manure, fertilizers, and leaking septic tanks. More than half of Central valley communities use groundwater for their drinking supplies.

It’s expensive to test for pesticides, and it isn’t required.

For the article, the author tested 10 wells and found herbicides bromacil, diuron, and simazine, the weed killer atrazine, banned in Europe but still widely used here.

In 2007 the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the EPA tested for pesticides in 278 domestic, school, and farm wells in 16 states and found pesticides in 152 of them (45%).


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