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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Health Note

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth's Diane Toomey reports on a study about the effects of low-level, but chronic exposure to pesticides on French vineyard workers.


CURWOOD: Coming up, the view from the mountaintop, watching for fires. First, this environmental health note with Diane Toomey.

TOOMEY: Drinking wine can sometimes make people act a bit foolish, but a new study shows that even farming wine grapes may lead to mental impairment. It's known that heavy doses of certain types of pesticides act as nerve toxins and can impair brain function. But there have been few studies on long-term exposure to pesticides. So researchers tested vineyard workers in Bordeaux, France, who worked with pesticide-treated grapes for at least two decades. The workers had either mixed pesticide applications or had labored in vineyards treated with pesticides. For comparison researchers also examined agricultural workers with no pesticide exposure. Both groups were given a series of mental and verbal tests. For example, people were asked to remember certain words and pictures as well as perform certain tasks, such as connecting a series of dots. Researchers found that workers exposed to pesticides were three-and-a-half times more likely to score low on these tests compared to non-exposed workers. But the researchers made another find. It appears that drinking wine or other alcohol on a regular basis actually improved workers' scores. Among moderate drinkers, there was no difference between exposed workers and those who had not been around pesticides. But researchers say they can't explain why this is so. That's this week's Health Update. I'm Diane Toomey.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.



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