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      Improving Exposure Assessment Methodologies for Epidemiological Studies on Pesticides: Study Protocol


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          Exposure to certain pesticides has been associated with several chronic diseases. However, to determine the role of pesticides in the causation of such diseases, an assessment of historical exposures is required. Exposure measurement data are rarely available; therefore, assessment of historical exposures is frequently based on surrogate self-reported information, which has inherent limitations. Understanding the performance of the applied surrogate measures in the exposure assessment of pesticides is therefore important to allow proper evaluation of the risks.


          The Improving Exposure Assessment Methodologies for Epidemiological Studies on Pesticides (IMPRESS) project aims to assess the reliability and external validity of the surrogate measures used to assign exposure within individuals or groups of individuals, which are frequently based on self-reported data on exposure determinants. IMPRESS will also evaluate the size of recall bias on the misclassification of exposure to pesticides; this in turn will affect epidemiological estimates of the effect of pesticides on human health.


          The IMPRESS project will recruit existing cohort participants from previous and ongoing research studies primarily of epidemiological origin from Malaysia, Uganda, and the United Kingdom. Consenting participants of each cohort will be reinterviewed using an amended version of the original questionnaire addressing pesticide use characteristics administered to that cohort. The format and relevant questions will be retained but some extraneous questions from the original (eg, relating to health) will be excluded for ethical and practical reasons. The reliability of pesticide exposure recall over different time periods (<2 years, 6-12 years, and >15 years) will then be evaluated. Where the original cohort study is still ongoing, participants will also be asked if they wish to take part in a new exposure biomonitoring survey, which involves them providing urine samples for pesticide metabolite analysis and completing questionnaire information regarding their work activities at the time of sampling. The participant’s level of exposure to pesticides will be determined by analyzing the collected urine samples for selected pesticide metabolites. The biomonitoring measurement results will be used to assess the performance of algorithm-based exposure assessment methods used in epidemiological studies to estimate individual exposures during application and re-entry work.


          The project was funded in September 2017. Enrollment and sample collection was completed for Malaysia in 2019 and is on-going for Uganda and the United Kingdom. Sample and data analysis will proceed in 2020 and the first results are expected to be submitted for publication in 2021.


          The study will evaluate the consistency of questionnaire data and accuracy of current algorithms in assessing pesticide exposures. It will indicate where amendments can be made to better capture exposure data for future epidemiology studies and thus improve the reliability of exposure-disease associations.

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          A quantitative approach for estimating exposure to pesticides in the Agricultural Health Study.

          We developed a quantitative method to estimate long-term chemical-specific pesticide exposures in a large prospective cohort study of more than 58000 pesticide applicators in North Carolina and Iowa. An enrollment questionnaire was administered to applicators to collect basic time- and intensity-related information on pesticide exposure such as mixing condition, duration and frequency of application, application methods and personal protective equipment used. In addition, a detailed take-home questionnaire was administered to collect further intensity-related exposure information such as maintenance or repair of mixing and application equipment, work practices and personal hygiene. More than 40% of the enrolled applicators responded to this detailed take-home questionnaire. Two algorithms were developed to identify applicators' exposure scenarios using information from the enrollment and take-home questionnaires separately in the calculation of subject-specific intensity of exposure score to individual pesticides. The 'general algorithm' used four basic variables (i.e. mixing status, application method, equipment repair status and personal protective equipment use) from the enrollment questionnaire and measurement data from the published pesticide exposure literature to calculate estimated intensity of exposure to individual pesticides for each applicator. The 'detailed' algorithm was based on variables in the general algorithm plus additional exposure information from the take-home questionnaire, including types of mixing system used (i.e. enclosed or open), having a tractor with enclosed cab and/or charcoal filter, frequency of washing equipment after application, frequency of replacing old gloves, personal hygiene and changing clothes after a spill. Weighting factors applied in both algorithms were estimated using measurement data from the published pesticide exposure literature and professional judgment. For each study subject, chemical-specific lifetime cumulative pesticide exposure levels were derived by combining intensity of pesticide exposure as calculated by the two algorithms independently and duration/frequency of pesticide use from the questionnaire. Distributions of duration, intensity and cumulative exposure levels of 2,4-D and chlorpyrifos are presented by state, gender, age group and applicator type (i.e. farmer or commercial applicator) for the entire enrollment cohort and for the sub-cohort of applicators who responded to the take-home questionnaire. The distribution patterns of all basic exposure indices (i.e. intensity, duration and cumulative exposure to 2,4-D and chlorpyrifos) by state, gender, age and applicator type were almost identical in two study populations, indicating that the take-home questionnaire sub-cohort of applicators is representative of the entire cohort in terms of exposure.
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            Semen quality in relation to biomarkers of pesticide exposure.

            We previously reported reduced sperm concentration and motility in fertile men in a U.S. agrarian area (Columbia, MO) relative to men from U.S. urban centers (Minneapolis, MN; Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY). In the present study we address the hypothesis that pesticides currently used in agriculture in the Midwest contributed to these differences in semen quality. We selected men in whom all semen parameters (concentration, percentage sperm with normal morphology, and percentage motile sperm) were low (cases) and men in whom all semen parameters were within normal limits (controls) within Missouri and Minnesota (sample sizes of 50 and 36, respectively) and measured metabolites of eight current-use pesticides in urine samples provided at the time of semen collection. All pesticide analyses were conducted blind with respect to center and case-control status. Pesticide metabolite levels were elevated in Missouri cases, compared with controls, for the herbicides alachlor and atrazine and for the insecticide diazinon [2-isopropoxy-4-methyl-pyrimidinol (IMPY)]; for Wilcoxon rank test, p = 0.0007, 0.012, and 0.0004 for alachlor, atrazine, and IMPY, respectively. Men from Missouri with high levels of alachlor or IMPY were significantly more likely to be cases than were men with low levels [odds ratios (ORs) = 30.0 and 16.7 for alachlor and IMPY, respectively], as were men with atrazine levels higher than the limit of detection (OR = 11.3). The herbicides 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) and metolachlor were also associated with poor semen quality in some analyses, whereas acetochlor levels were lower in cases than in controls (p = 0.04). No significant associations were seen for any pesticides within Minnesota, where levels of agricultural pesticides were low, or for the insect repellent DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) or the malathion metabolite malathion dicarboxylic acid. These associations between current-use pesticides and reduced semen quality suggest that agricultural chemicals may have contributed to the reduction in semen quality in fertile men from mid-Missouri we reported previously.
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              Occupational Pesticide Exposures and Respiratory Health

              Pesticides have been widely used to control pest and pest-related diseases in agriculture, fishery, forestry and the food industry. In this review, we identify a number of respiratory symptoms and diseases that have been associated with occupational pesticide exposures. Impaired lung function has also been observed among people occupationally exposed to pesticides. There was strong evidence for an association between occupational pesticide exposure and asthma, especially in agricultural occupations. In addition, we found suggestive evidence for a link between occupational pesticide exposure and chronic bronchitis or COPD. There was inconclusive evidence for the association between occupational pesticide exposure and lung cancer. Better control of pesticide uses and enforcement of safety behaviors, such as using personal protection equipment (PPE) in the workplace, are critical for reducing the risk of developing pesticide-related symptoms and diseases. Educational training programs focusing on basic safety precautions and proper uses of personal protection equipment (PPE) are possible interventions that could be used to control the respiratory diseases associated with pesticide exposure in occupational setting.

                Author and article information

                JMIR Res Protoc
                JMIR Res Protoc
                JMIR Research Protocols
                JMIR Publications (Toronto, Canada )
                February 2020
                28 February 2020
                : 9
                : 2
                : e16448
                [1 ] Health and Safety Executive Buxton United Kingdom
                [2 ] Centre for Human Exposure Science Institute of Occupational Medicine Edinburgh United Kingdom
                [3 ] Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences Utrecht University Utrecht Netherlands
                [4 ] Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health University of Manchester Manchester United Kingdom
                [5 ] Institute of Biological Chemistry, Biophysics and Bioengineering Heriot Watt University Edinburgh United Kingdom
                Author notes
                Corresponding Author: Kate Jones kate.jones@ 123456hse.gov.uk
                Author information
                ©Kate Jones, Ioannis Basinas, Hans Kromhout, Martie van Tongeren, Anne-Helen Harding, John W Cherrie, Andrew Povey, Zulkhairul Naim Sidek Ahmad, Samuel Fuhrimann, Johan Ohlander, Roel Vermeulen, Karen S Galea. Originally published in JMIR Research Protocols (http://www.researchprotocols.org), 28.02.2020.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR Research Protocols, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on http://www.researchprotocols.org, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

                : 1 October 2019
                : 30 November 2019
                : 14 December 2019

                pesticides,occupational exposure,epidemiology,algorithm,biomonitoring,urine,questionnaire


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