In a new study, researchers found exposure to high levels of pesticides raised the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The findings emphasize the importance of using personal protective equipment during exposure to pesticides on the job.
The research was conducted by the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
The results are from the Kuakini Honolulu Heart Program, which enrolled over 8,000 Japanese American men on Oahu between 1965 and 1968.
Men enrolled in the study were 45 to 68 years of age and self-reported their occupation.
The group has since undergone multiple examinations and researchers are also tracking all causes of death and some disease outcomes.
Data on rates of heart disease and stroke were available through December 1999, for up to 34 years of follow-up.
Pesticide exposure was estimated using a scale from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that assesses the intensity and length of occupational exposure for each job.
Compared to men who were not exposed to pesticides at work, in the first 10 years of follow-up, the researchers found a 45% higher risk of heart disease or stroke in those with high pesticide exposure.
There was no significant relationship between low to moderate exposure to pesticides and the risk of heart disease or stroke.
According to the team, pesticides have a long half-life, so health effects may occur years after exposure.
By analyzing different time lags, they found that the maximum effect of exposure on heart disease and stroke risk was during the first 10 years.
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.
Although the study was conducted solely in first or second-generation Japanese American men, similar results were found in Taiwan for high pesticide exposure in middle age.
One author of the study is Beatriz L. Rodriguez, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., a professor of geriatric medicine.
The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
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