Scientists have found that low-level exposure to organophosphates (OPs) produces lasting decrements in neurological and cognitive function. Memory and information processing speed are affected to a greater degree than other cognitive functions such as language.
The systematic review of the literature was carried out by researchers at UCL and the Open University. It is the first to attempt a quantitative evaluation of the data assimilated from 14 studies and more than 1,600 participants. The researchers used meta-analysis to obtain an overview of the literature and their findings are published in the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology.
"Meta-analysis combines the results of several studies and moves the discussion away from individual pieces of research, towards an overview of a body of literature," says lead author Dr Sarah Mackenzie Ross (UCL Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology).
"This is considered to be the method of choice in situations where research findings may be used to inform public policy," explains Professor Chris McManus (UCL Clinical, Educational & Health Psychology), co-author of the study.
Dr Mackenzie Ross continues: "This is the first time anyone has analysed the literature concerning the neurotoxicity of organophosphate pesticides, using the statistical technique of meta-analysis.
"The analysis reveals that the majority of well-designed studies undertaken over the last 20 years find a significant association between low-level exposure to organophosphates and impaired cognitive function."