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Olfactory Function in Latino Farmworkers Over 2 Years: Longitudinal Exploration of Subclinical Neurological Effects of Pesticide Exposure

Quandt, Sara A. PhD; Walker, Francis O. MD; Talton, Jennifer W. MS; Chen, Haiying MD, PhD; Arcury, Thomas A. PhD

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: December 2017 - Volume 59 - Issue 12 - p 1148–1152
doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000001123
Original Articles

Objective: We compared patterns of olfactory function over 2 years in pesticide-exposed male Latino farmworkers and male Latino workers in industries without pesticide exposure.

Methods: At five points over 2 years, workers completed tests of odor threshold (16 concentrations of n-butanol) using a well-established methodology. Tests at two or more time points were completed by 156 farmworkers and 118 non-farmworkers.

Results: Farmworkers required significantly higher odorant concentrations at Contact 1 and across the 2-year follow-up to detect the odor. When adjusted for Contact 1, between-group differences persisted, but odor threshold performance did not worsen over time.

Conclusions: Pesticide exposure has been linked to neurodegenerative disease, as has declining olfactory function. Persistently poorer olfactory function among pesticide-exposed workers suggests the need to monitor neurological function in this vulnerable worker population.

Department Epidemiology and Prevention, Division of Public Health Sciences (Dr Quandt); Center for Worker Health (Dr Quandt, Dr Walker, Dr Chen, Dr Arcury); Department of Neurology (Dr Walker); Department of Biostatistical Sciences, Division of Public Health Sciences (Ms Talton, Dr Chen); Department of Family and Community Medicine (Dr Arcury), Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Address correspondence to: Sara A. Quandt, PhD, Department of Epidemiology and Prevention, Division of Public Health Sciences, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC 27157 (

This research was funded by grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: R01 ES008739.

Competing financial interests: None declared.

Authors Quandt, Walker, Talton, Chen, and Arcury have no relationships/conditions/circumstances that present potential conflict of interest.

The JOEM editorial board and planners have no financial interest related to this research.

Copyright © 2017 by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine