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Study of pesticides effects on Iowa farm workers ends this year

The world's largest study into the dangers of pesticide exposure to farm workers is wrapping up this year. It's been underway for 20 years. Researchers say the findings that have surfaced could be crucial for reducing the risks of workplace injury or illness from unsafe products for not only farm workers but for anyone who has to handle dangerous chemicals as part of their job.

The work, which started in 1993, was conducted under the aegis of the National Institutes of Health. The researchers used farm workers and their families from Iowa and North Carolina as subjects. The purpose was to see what effects farm chemical exposure had on rates of cancer in the subject families, but it also tracked other health issues as well. There were more than 89,000 participants in all.

According to a recent report on the study, researchers confirmed a greater risk of cancers in farmers due to pesticide exposure. Risk of prostate cancer proved particularly elevated. Scientists also found links between certain pesticides and increased risks of Parkinson's disease, asthma, thyroid disease and diabetes. The effects of the exposure were noted in both men and women.

But officials also found that following one very common-sense step -- wearing gloves -- can do a lot to reduce the risks.

Over the course of the 20 years, researchers compared data of people who wore gloves and people who didn't and found that the risk of exposure fell by 70 percent for those who had the protective wear. Wearing other protective clothing and thorough washing after handling chemicals was also helpful.

Source: The Meadville Tribune, "Study focuses on cancer in those who apply pesticides," Nina Bell, June 30, 2014

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