Pesticide exposure among tea estate workers could affect their DNA

Sans protection: The workers were not wearing protective gear such as masks, gloves and boots.

Sans protection: The workers were not wearing protective gear such as masks, gloves and boots.   | Photo Credit: PARIMALA RAO


To prevent further health problems, theyneed to take precautions

In the lush tea gardens of northern West Bengal, hundreds of men and women go about their daily business. But lurking here is a hidden danger they are unaware of — pesticide exposure, which is a growing global concern today. Susmita Dutta from the University of North Bengal, set out to investigate this problem in the tea gardens of Darjeeling foothills as a part of her doctoral research.

Two reports recently published by the team points out that chronic exposure to the mixture of pesticides has led to changes in the DNA and also decreased certain enzyme activity.

Enzyme activity

The team collected blood samples from over 200 individuals which included estate workers, controls who didn’t smoke or drink and two more control groups who either smoked or consumed alcohol.

Detailed analysis showed that the estate workers both men and women, irrespective of whether they smoked or consumed alcohol, showed decrease in enzyme activity, especially enzymes AChE and BuChE.

“AChE is known to be target of most organophosphates. AChE terminates synaptic (neuron to neuron) transmission, preventing continuous nerve firings at nerve endings. Organophosphorous pesticides bind to this site and inactivate the enzymes. In the long run, these may even cause other neurological complications. Some studies have pointed out that herbicide and fungicide exposure is associated with Parkinson’s disease too,” explains Dr. Dutta, the first author of the paper published in Biomarkers.

Another paper published by the team in Mutation Research – Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis, shows that pesticide exposure led to DNA damage.

Comet assay

The team used a special study called comet assay which helps assess DNA damage and found that individuals exposed to pesticides had significantly higher value of certain parameters which suggest damage compared to control subjects.

The paper notes that the damage might be the due to single strand DNA breaks, or any disorder of the DNA or DNA-DNA or DNA-protein cross-links.

This damage was found to be independent of sex, age, or duration of exposure.

The researchers note that the workers were not wearing any protective gear such as masks, gloves and boots. The men who were mostly sprayers inhaled and also contacted the pesticide through their skin. The female workers also came into direct skin contact and has residues on their clothes.

Preventive measures

The team also warns of second-hand contact where the family can also be exposed if the workers don’t clean up properly before going home.

Dr. Dutta adds that this problem is prevalent in all plantations across the country and to prevent further health problems for this workforce they need to be educated to take safety precautions.

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 7:50:29 AM |

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