Methods for Assessing Motor and Sensory Effects in Agricultural Populations

  • Dick, Robert B.;
  • Grubb, P.

Agriculture is the primary source of income for an estimated 4.5 million Americans, a significant proportion of whom are children. Working in an agricultural environment exposes workers to numerous chemical, physical, and biological hazards that may cause either temporary or permanent damage to the nervous system. In the past few years neurobehavioral testing has afforded investigators the tools to test worker populations exposed to chemicals and metals for nervous system toxicities. Several neurobehavioral test batteries have been developed and are presently being used to test worker populations. These popular test batteries, however, have concentrated more on testing cognitive functions rather than motor or sensory functions. Motor and sensory functions are more apt to be impaired in agricultural environments due to the specific sites of action of many agricultural chemicals (e.g., pesticides) on the nervous system.

This presentation will describe the sensory and motor tests (e.g., reaction time, olfaction, vision, audition, vibration, temperature, tremor, postural stability) that are being developed at NIOSH for assessing pesticide-induced impairment. The tests will be evaluated using two groups of subjects. The first group will be chosen to represent the general work population, and will be used to determine norms and test-retest reliability for each test. The second group of subjects will consist of termite exterminators and will be used to evaluate the validity of the tests in detecting pesticide effects. This second group will be actively employed in applying the insecticide chlorpyrifos; blood and urine samples will be collected to estimate acute exposure. Results of the study will be used to identify sensitive tests for detecting sensory and motor impairment in agricultural populations exposed to neurotoxic chemicals. Tests that can detect early neurotoxic health effects can be used to:

  • reduce or eliminate exposures to neurotoxic chemicals and metals;
  • prevent additional exposures in affected populations; and,
  • identify workers for whom intervention procedures may be successful in reducing or preventing the onset of chronic ailments.

This research abstract was extracted from a portion of the proceedings of "Agricultural Safety and Health: Detection, Prevention and Intervention," a conference presented by the Ohio State University and the Ohio Department of Health, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The authors noted above are from: Both at NIOSH, Cincinnati, OH

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