NSC Labor Division news Research/studies Agriculture, forestry and fishing Workplace exposures

Study links on-the-job pesticide exposure to increased risk of COPD

Photo: mladenbalinovac/iStockphoto

London — Workers exposed to pesticides may face a higher risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, results of a recent study led by British researchers suggest.

Using UK Biobank data for nearly 95,000 participants, the researchers applied an occupational exposure matrix for 12 agents, including biological dusts, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and chlorinated solvents. Findings show that workers with sustained, high-intensity exposure to pesticides had a 32% higher risk of developing COPD, while those exposed at any point during their career were 13% more likely to develop the respiratory disease. COPD also was more common among current smokers (17%) than former smokers (9%) and never smokers (7%).


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 16 million Americans have COPD. Symptoms include frequent coughing or wheezing; excess phlegm, mucus or sputum production; shortness of breath; and difficulty taking deep breaths.

“Occupational exposures are important, preventable causes of COPD,” the researchers write. “Focused preventive strategies for workers exposed to pesticides can prevent the associated COPD burden.”

The study was published online Jan. 26 in the journal Thorax.

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