19 August 1997

Abortion effect in Almeria

SCIENTISTS have recorded a higher-than-normal incidence of spontaneous abortion among the wives of horticultural workers using chemical sprays in an intensive agricultural region of Spain.

The study of 105 workers in Almeria investigated the effects on health of exposure to pesticides, including organophosphates. Antonio Hernandez from Granada University in Spain, told the Edinburgh conference on Wednesday that 37% of sprayers showed toxic signs.

"There was a higher incidence of spontaneous abortion in their wives, an excess of contact dermatitis, and an increase in depression and neurological disorders," he said. A study of 251 suicide cases in the same area showed a strong positive association between suicide and exposure to pesticides.

Dr Hernandez explained work was now progressing on the use of biomarkers to give reliable early warning of early symptoms and the susceptibility to pesticide poisoning.

Goran Jamal from the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, reported that a study of farmers exposed to organophosphorus sheep dips supported existing evidence that long-term disorders of the nervous system followed acute organophosphate intoxication and that chronic effects could follow repetitive low-level exposure.

"Significant abnormalities were found in both groups of 16 farmers but were more pronounced in the group already suffering ill health from organophosphate poisoning," he said.