Farmer spraying chemicals on a green grass field

Pesticides are designed to be toxic in order to control or kill a target organism. However, their harmful effects are not limited to the pests they are supposed to target.

Pesticides are also potentially hazardous to people, animals, other non-target organisms, and the environment.

Pesticide exposure has been known to cause a number of adverse effects on human health. It is important, therefore, for anyone to know the potential health problems that a pesticide can cause, especially people who use pesticides and regularly come in contact with these substances.

Pesticide-Induced Diseases

Pesticide exposure can occur in many ways. For instance, farmers and agricultural workers can be exposed to pesticides at the workplace during pesticide application. Meanwhile, individuals that live near a farm or area where pesticides are used can be exposed through pesticide drift.

Pesticide exposure is associated with a wide array of adverse health effects, ranging from respiratory problems to neurological disorders to cancer.

In fact, a specific pesticide has been the target of many lawsuits that were recently filed in the United States. According to complaints in the Paraquat lawsuit, exposure to the pesticide can result in neurotoxic effects that could potentially result in a heightened risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

Aside from a number of neurological disorders, however, these potentially toxic substances have also been known to negatively affect human health through certain illnesses or diseases. Some of them include:

Alzheimer’s Disease

A number of research has linked pesticides to neurological disorders, but research on its link to Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is still particularly new.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is an irreversible and progressive brain disease that gradually affects memory and thinking skills until it become severe enough to affect one’s ability to do simple tasks.

AD is also potentially fatal and currently has no cure. Even though a certain drug was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to supposedly treat the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s, it was greeted with harsh criticism by experts.

A particular study included in a 2016 meta-analysis found that participants who were exposed to pesticides showed a decline in cognitive function compared to a group who had no pesticide exposure.


Exposure to pesticides has been found to increase incidents of repsiratory problems including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and even lung cancer.

In the United States, asthma affects approximately 25 million people.

Asthma is a condition that affects your lungs. It can cause breathlessness, wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing. Research has indicated that pesticides can cause an increased risk of developing asthma, worsen a previous asthmatic condition, and even trigger asthma attacks by narrowing the airways.

Results of a 2004 study found that children who were exposed to herbicides during their first year of life are four times more likely to have asthma before the age of five.

Birth Defects

Exposure to pesticides can increase your risk of having a baby with birth defects. During the mother’s pregnancy, a baby’s brain and nervous system are rapidly developing. Therefore, during this stage, they are more susceptible to the toxic effects of pesticides.

Moreover, a study found an increased chance of preterm birth or premature birth, in counties of California with a higher pesticide use compared to other counties that used lower levels of pesticides. Preterm birth is the birth of a baby at fewer than 37 weeks, as opposed to a full-term delivery at around 40 weeks.


Hazardous chemicals including pesticides are potentially carcinogenic or a cancer-causing agent. Repeated contact or excessive exposure to these harmful substances can lead to cancer.

Pesticides have been linked to different types of cancer, including bladder, breast, lung cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

In particular, a popular weed killer or herbicide known as glyphosate was classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a probable human carcinogen.

The majority of studies that link glyphosate exposure to cancer mainly involves farmers and agricultural workers who had occupational exposure to the glyphosate herbicide through applying, mixing, and loading the substance in their workplace.

Pesticide exposure during a woman’s pregnancy has also been associated with a higher risk of leukemia in children. Leukemia is the most common childhood cancer and accounts for about 28% of the incidence of all childhood cancer.

Developmental and Learning Disabilities

According to a number of research, an unborn baby that has been exposed to pesticides during critical periods of the mother’s pregnancy may face an increased risk of developing certain developmental and learning disorders including autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and reduced intelligence quotient (IQ).

Early exposures to chemical pesticides can also affect a child’s development much later in life, as it can potentially contribute to a number of behavioral and emotional disorders in children.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is caused by a loss of nerve cells in the part of the brain known as substantia nigra. Nerve cells in this region of the brain are responsible for producing a chemical called dopamine, which helps regulate body movement.

In 2011, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives published results from a study of Parkinson’s and how it may be linked to pesticides.

The study explained that PD was associated with lifetime use of pesticides, with animal studies suggesting that the pesticides Paraquat and Rotenone can cause oxidative stress and block mitochondrial complex.

The researchers ended the study with the conclusion that the disease “was strongly associated” with Paraquat and Rotenone exposure.

Reproductive Health Effects

Several active ingredients of pesticides have been identified as endocrine disruptors, which are nasty chemicals that interfere with the body’s hormones or endocrine system.

This disruption can cause a wide array of adverse health effects, including miscarriage, demasculinizing effects, and decreased fertility in both males and females.

A 2017 study from Harvard T.H. Chan Public School of Health found that eating produce with high levels of pesticide residue reduced women’s chances of having children by 18%.

Pesticide Poisoning

Poisoning from pesticides is also another risk that comes with pesticide exposure.

Symptoms of pesticide poisoning may occur in patients who had a single episode of exposure to hgih amounts of toxic chemicals or in patients who have been repeatedly exposed to smaller amounts of toxic substances over time.

Symptoms of poisoning may mimic the signs and symptoms of other diseases. This is why cases of pesticide poisoning often go underreported.

Signs of poisoning can range from mild skin, eye, and nose, irritations to weakness, coma, and even death.

Certain pesticide families can also affect the body in different ways. For instance, an organophosphate pesticide can immensely affect the nervous system by causing confusion, loss of memory, disorientation, and other symptoms such as weakness, nausea, and vomiting.

The severity of the effects may also vary according to pesticide toxicity, concentration, and route of exposure of the chemical.

Unfortunately, medical professionals often receive limited training on pesticide-related illnesses. This is why in these instances, prevention is more important and a more certain path compared to the treatment available for cases of poisoning.

If you believe that you have been exposed to pesticides and you are experiencing symptoms of poisoning, you should seek medical attention immediately.

It is also important to note that when handling pesticides, one should always carefully read the directions and instructions written on the pesticide label to prevent unfortunate incidents.

What Can You Do to Minimize Pesticide Exposure?

There are some ways you can follow to reduce pesticide exposure and possibly avoid its risks to human health. Some of these are:

  • following label directions when applying or mixing pesticides
  • keeping the pesticide in its original bottle with its original label
  • wear protective equipment to avoid coming in contact with pesticides
  • consider non-chemical management methods on controlling pests on your garden or lawn

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