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To produce their report, released last month, a group of eight NIH epidemiologists surveyed 21,208 pesticide applicators in Iowa and North Carolina, asking them to report whether they had received a doctor’s diagnosis of depression between 1993 and 2010. In total, 1,701—eight percent—said they had. The researchers, who also examined the specific chemicals used by farmers to kill insects, weeds, and fungi, found that farmers who used one class of common insecticide were up to 90 percent more likely to have been diagnosed depression, and that farmers who used common fumigants were up to 80 percent more likely to be depressed.
There’s a significant correlation between pesticide use and depression, that much is very clear, but not all pesticides. The two types that Kamel says reliably moved the needle on depression are organochlorine insecticides and fumigants, which increase the farmer’s risk of depression by a whopping 90% and 80%, respectively. The study lays out the seven specific pesticides, falling generally into one of those two categories, that demonstrated a categorically reliable correlation to increased risk of depression.
We found positive associations between use of some pesticides and depression among male private pesticide applicators in the AHS. Depression was positively associated in each case group with ever-use of two pesticide classes, fumigants and organochlorine insecticides, as well as with ever-use of seven individual pesticides: the fumigants aluminum phosphide and ethylene dibromide; the phenoxy herbicide 2,4,5-T; the organochlorine insecticide dieldrin; and the OPs diazinon, malathion, and parathion. Positive relationships between depression and cumulative days of use were evident, though nonmonotonic, in each case group for the fumigants ethylene dibromide and methyl bromide, the fungicide captan, and the organochlorine insecticide lindane.