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  • Robert Preidt
  • Posted January 31, 2022

Pesticides at Work Could Raise Odds for COPD Lung Disease

Workplace exposure to pesticides may boost a person's risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a new study finds.

COPD is a group of lung diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing problems. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the two main types of COPD. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it's the sixth leading cause of death for Americans.

"In a large population-based study, occupational exposure to pesticides was associated with risk of COPD," the study authors conclude. Efforts to reduce workplace exposures "can prevent the associated COPD burden," the team concluded in their report published online Jan. 26 in the journal Thorax.

This added risk is separate from smoking and asthma, two major risk factors for COPD, the researchers noted in a journal news release.

Workplace exposures are important preventable causes of COPD, and an estimated 14% of COPD cases are work-related, the researchers explained.

But it can be challenging to pinpoint which jobs and work exposure levels might pose the greatest risk, according to the team led by Sara De Matteis of the National Heart & Lung Institute at Imperial College London, in England.

To learn more, her team looked at more than 94,500 40- to 69-year-olds in the United Kingdom. Most had never smoked (59%) and just 5.5% were current smokers. About 11% had been diagnosed with asthma.

Overall, 8% had COPD. That included 17% of current smokers, 9% of former smokers and 7% of never-smokers.

Just over 4% of those with COPD and 3.5% of those without COPD had been exposed to pesticides at work. But 48% of those with COPD and 47% of those without COPD had been exposed to several agents, including biological dusts, mineral dusts, gases and fumes, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, aromatic solvents, chlorinated solvents, other solvents and metals.

Most study participants had low levels of exposures to these agents at work, the study authors noted.

After accounting for potentially significant factors, the investigators concluded that workplace exposure to pesticides at any point was associated with a 13% increased risk of COPD. A combination of long-term and high level of exposure was associated with a 32% increased risk.

No significantly increased risk of COPD was observed for any of the other workplace agents included in the study, including dusts and metals, the team reported.

The researchers noted that because this was an observational study, it doesn't prove cause and effect. They also said they couldn't pinpoint the effects that particular pesticides had on COPD risk.

More information

To learn more about COPD, visit the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

SOURCE: Thorax, news release, Jan. 26, 2022

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