The pesticides that U.S. farmers use are supposed to kill nerve cells in crop pests, but they may also be leading many farmers to depression and suicide. As Brian Bienkowski reports for Truthout, an October 2014 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives links seven specific pesticides to depression. As Karen Lo reports, the 20-year study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, reveals “stark data about the relationship between the use of pesticides and the rate of depression in male farmers.” Another researcher—Cheryl Beseler, an environmental health researcher at Colorado State University—is careful to point out that the studies do not prove that pesticides cause depression, but animal testing indicates that this is possible.
According to Bienkowski’s report, an Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson, Cathy Milbourn, writes that of the seven pesticides examined, “only aluminum phosphide, diazinon, and malathion are still registered and in use.” The EPA cancelled the registrations of ethylene dibromide, 2,4,5-T, dieldrin, and parathion, Milbourn said. Aluminum phosphide, diazinon, and malathion are undergoing EPA review.
Farmers already live stressful and demanding lives because their work is affected by uncontrollable weather, physical demands, and economic woes. Studies indicate that heavy pesticide use over short time periods can double farmers’ risks of depression. Furthermore, a UCLA neurologist, Dr. Beate Ritz, has found that those in California who have been exposed to pesticides have a greater risk of Parkinson’s disease later in life. The findings suggest even greater risks for many migrant and seasonal workers have difficulty because of the cultural barriers and spending so much time away from their families.
Brian Bienkowski, “Pesticide Use by Farmers Linked to High Rates of Depression, Suicides,” Truthout, October 14, 2014, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/26793-pesticide-use-by-farmers-linked-to-high-rates-of-depression-suicides.
Karen Lo, “Landmark Study Shows Link between Pesticide Use, Depression,” The Daily Meal, November 10, 2014, http://www.thedailymeal.com/news/landmark-study-shows-link-between-pesticide-use-depression/111014.
Student Researcher: Kori Williams (Sonoma State University)
Community Evaluator: Lizette Rocha (Watsonville, CA)