The long-term respiratory health effects of the herbicide, paraquat, among Western Cape workers

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Objective: Paraquat is a commonly used herbicide worldwide and is a well-documented cause of pulmonary fibrosis in studies of laboratory animals and in humans following high dose exposure (usually accidental or as parasuicide). The respiratory effects of long-term, low dose paraquat exposure have not been fully evaluated. We set out to evaluate the possible effects of paraquat spraying among deciduous fruit farm workers in the Western Cape, South Africa. Methods: A cross-sectional study of 126 workers was performed. Administered questionnaires generated information on exposure, respiratory symptoms and confounding variables. Spirometry and gas transfer were measured and chest radiographs performed. Oxygen desaturation on exercise testing was by oximetry during a modified stage one exercise test. Results: No association was found between long-term paraquat exposure and reported symptoms, spirometry (FVC, FEVl, FEVl/FVC) and gas transfer (TLco and Kco) or chest radiography. Multivariate analysis showed a significant relationship between measures of long-term paraquat exposure and arterial oxygen desaturation during exercise (p < 0.05). Conclusion: Previous studies have also not shown a significant relationship between measures of paraquat exposure and standard tests of lung function. Arterial oxygen desaturation during exercise represents a more sensitive test. Our findings indicate that working with paraquat under usual field conditions for a long period is associated with abnormal exercise physiology in a dose dependant fashion.