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Photo by Day Donaldson, Suicide and Depressionn linked to Pesticides

Photo by Day Donaldson, titled Suicide and Depression linked to Pesticides

If you’re like some of the women in Parkinson’s Women Support, sometimes you can’t help but ponder the variety of possible environmental experiences that might have triggered your Parkinson’s disease.

Epidemiological research has identified several factors that may be linked to Parkinson’s, including rural living, well water, manganese and pesticides.

Some studies have demonstrated that prolonged occupational exposure to certain chemicals is associated with an elevated risk of PD. These include the insecticides permethrin and beta-hexachlorocyclohexane (beta-HCH), the herbicides paraquat and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and the fungicide maneb. Source: Parkinsons’s Disease Foundation, Causes

We polled Parkinson’s Women Support to find out about their pesticide exposure. Of the 33 women who responded:

  • 15 thought they’d been exposed since childhood
  • 15 thought they hadn’t been exposed
  • 3 thought they had exposure to pesticides in their 50s, 40s, 30s

Here is their commentary.

“My dad was always spraying something either for pests, or in his trade as a building contractor. I worked in the canneries as a college student, and gardened during my 20s with exposure to formaldehyde. There was also a two-year stint stripping all the lead-bearing paint off the wainscoting in our fixer-upper Victorian house. Not healthy.”


“Parathion, was a very toxic pesticide used on pineapple plantations in Hawaii when I was growing up. It was popular after WWII, and was discontinued in favor of malathion later on. Also pesticides got into the milk we drank:

‘Pesticides were not without their problems. After a number of years of use, it was discovered that EDB and DBCP did not readily degrade in soil and gradually percolated to groundwater. That contamination resulted in the need to use activated carbon filters to clean up water supplied to the new town of Mililani, which was being developed by Castle and Cooke on lands formerly planted to pineapple.’ Source: Hawaiian Pineapple, the Rise and Fall of an Industry

“So much for growing up in Paradise.”


“My exposure to pesticides was when my father would spray outside for ants using some pretty heavy-duty stuff. This was in the 70s when people didn’t pay much attention to chemicals. I think the attitude was if it does the job then it must be right. My mom, who also had PD and I always wondered if that could have been one of the environmental issues for our PD diagnosis.”


“I grew up in Florida. Enough said.”


“I worked with formaldehyde in my 20s.”


“I was exposed to parathion and other neurotoxins in my teens. I was also exposed to solvents and printers’ inks in my 20s and early 30s. I worked through my teen summers at a seed company, sun-up till sundown, 7 days a week.  Crop dusters would spray the fields while we were working in them, and then we’d be weeding, breeding, harvesting and otherwise handling the crops with their coat of pesticides. In the rural, agricultural area where I grew up, our water came from an artesian well; sounds fresh and clean, but who knows what was in that water. I’m one of four sisters; three of us worked at a seed farm and I’m the only one with PD.”


“I was exposed to crop duster airplanes spraying pesticides over a cornfield which was behind our house.”


“Father used pesticides in his flower garden and mosquito trucks sprayed our area regularly in Florida, where I lived for four years.”


“Lived in a crop dusting area in my late teens.”


I grew up in the Midwest where pesticides were routinely used, but I am the middle of three girls – all who grew up in the same environment – and I’m the only one with Parkinson’s.


Experts think that Parkinson’s disease is probably due to a combination of factors. Dr. Caroline Tanner, PADRECC Director, Professor of Neurology at UCSF often speaks on the Epidemiology of Parkinson’s disease.” She is also on an advisory board of the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Her prolific studies examine the patterns and populations of people with Parkinson’s disease. As Dr. Tanner summarizes it in one of her slides,

“Genetics load the gun and environment pulls the trigger.”

https://parkinsonswomen.com/2014/11/15/2009ucsf-parkinsons-disease-clinic-and-research-centers-6th-conference/

Dr. J. William Langston, Founder and Scientific Director of the Parkinson’s Institute, has extensively researched how chemicals in the environment are related to PD. He also frequently speaks about his research. https://parkinsonswomen.com/2014/09/09/dr-langston-the-wildest-world-of-parkinsons-disease/

Will the next generation of women in Parkinson’s Women Support have the same worries about childhood exposure to harmful pesticides and chemical? Time will tell. A clean environment might make a world of difference for people with PD. As Dr. Langston described the future of research for Parkinson’s disease,

“Hang on for the wildest world!”


About Parkinson’s Women Support: The mission of Parkinson’s Women Support is to offer moral support, encouragement and camaraderie for women who are Parkinson’s disease patients. Check out our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/parkinsonswomen

Thank you to Susan Foster for her editing assistance on this blog post.

2 thoughts on “33 Women with PD Ponder Pesticide and Chemical Exposure

  1. I responded no to pesticide exposure because mine was typical of anyone in their 60’s who grew up in suburban America; I do remember having to stay indoors during one overhead spraying of pesticide. I don’t know if our children are getting less exposure due to improved environmental protection laws and our own care in avoiding chemicals, or more exposure because the number of chemicals continues to increase and the interactions are unknown.

  2. I think my PD was exacerbated in large part by the chemicles used for soldering stained glass which I did for many years, age 25-45

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