SHAPE study details health impact of OPs

TWO long-awaited studies detailing the damage to human health associated with organo-phosphate sheep dips (OP) have finally been published.

The Survey of Health and Pesticide Exposure (SHAPE), led by Tony Fletcher of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the Study of Health in Agricultural Workers (SHAW), led by Andrew Povey of the University of Manchester, date back to the beginning of the decade.

After years of delay, they were published on the Defra website last week. Alongside a third study by Sarah Mackenzie-Ross, published earlier this year, they provide compelling new evidence regarding the serious health problems OPs appear to have caused in farmers who have used them.

The SHAW study identified nearly 19,000 people who farmed in the 1970s and analysed the health of a sample of those who were still alive, taking into account the sector worked in and the activities they undertook, including pesticides use. 

The results were ‘consistent with the hypothesis that OP exposure (via the handling of sheep dip concentrate) was associated with screen identified ill-health’ namely Parkinsonism and neuropathy, the report said.

It said it was ‘unclear whether this increased risk may have resulted from chronic low dose exposure or an episode of acute poisoning’.

The SHAPE survey featured a telephone interview and questionnaire of around 400 farmers who had been exposed to OPs, selected from threesupport groups.

From this, a smaller sample of 47 people was randomly selected for a detailed clinical assessment of ‘peripheral neuropathy’, damage to the nervous system that can affect movement, sensation and bodily functions.

Of the 43 eventually examined, 28 were classified as ‘neuropathy positive’, showing ‘positive clinical evidence of nerve damage’.

“This population was sick. It was clear these people were affected in terms of their peripheral neuropathy and the pattern was consistent with a chemically induced neuropathy,” Dr Fletcher told Farmers Guardian.

Typical symptoms included reduced reaction times and muscle strength, difficulty operating hands and legs, ‘abnormal sensations’, including pins and needles, and ‘deficits of the natural sensations’, particularly touch. Sexual dysfunctions and gut symptoms were also common, the report said.

But Dr Fletcher stressed the study was ‘not designed to and cannot prove cause and effect’.

“These people were affected and exposed, but it was a self-selected group and there was no formal control group,” he said.

He now intends to produce a ‘layman’s summary’ and another longer report on the findings.

Readers' comments (2)

  • hello i am 1 of the 28 that has nerve damage there is no compansation for us farm workers as no onw will accept liability to op doing the damage even when we wear oil skins we sweat and still get dip on your skin the smell of dip stayed with us for weeks after dipping .

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  • At last! As one who suffers from a rare genetic abnormality, in which I lack an enzyme to break down one of the chemicals asssociated with transmission from neuron to muscle, I have always been struck by the similarities between this and the action of organo phosphates. Twenty years ago, Tthe NHS would only offer genetic counselling, so scant was knowledge of this transmission mechanism. I regard all information as an advance. I refused genetic counselling, as the gene is recessive, and not apparent in my wife or existing children, and my deficiency is only apparent when certain chemicals, most notably muscle relaxants, as well as OP's and possibly glyphosate, are introduced to my body.

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