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Poisoned Land: The Rural Rise of Parkinson’s

Parkinson's Disease is a progressive neurological disorder that has no cure. It causes extreme stiffness in the limbs and uncontrollable shaking and tremors, among other symptoms. It is the fastest rising neurological disease in the world today that Specialists call it a "Parkinson's pandemic."

In recent years, several studies in various parts of the world have shown that farmers - including gardeners and other agricultural workers have a higher risk of developing Parkinson's Disease. In California, for example, those living near the farming fields of the Central Valley had a 75% higher chance of Parkinson's than those who lived in other areas.

What could be causing all this nerve damage? The suspected culprit is exposure to pesticides. There is a clear association between Parkinson's Disease and the use of pesticides, including herbicides or weed killers and fungicides. These chemical pest killers are applied - usually sprayed on - straight into the plant or soil, and into the environment. Those who work with pesticides are typically caught up in a mist of the spray and handle them without any protective gear like masks or gloves.

Pesticides attack the nervous system of the insects to kill them. Though the human nervous system is a lot more complex than the insects’, they share the same building blocks, so it follows that humans too will suffer from nerve damage via pesticide exposure. Some pesticides such as Paraquad and Mancosepp have already been banned in the EU.

Sadly, there are almost 4,000 other types of agricultural chemicals, and scientists only find out if they will affect farmers/humans negatively after the fact. To go pesticide-free is the only way to ensure safety, says organic farming advocates. Some farmers have not used a single chemical product on their farms in over 30 years. Many of them believe that pesticides are harmful to man and nature and that alternative options are available.

Conventional farmers, however, disagree. Using pesticides is a fast and cheap method to grow crops to ensure lower prices. Removing pesticides would push food prices up, and if cheaper produce is imported, the local farming community will die. So they continue to use pesticides despite the risk of developing Parkinson's.

For these farmers and growers, pesticides are essential since they keep or increase the yield to their farm, which will keep the farm running. Modern farming methods are also supposedly more environmentally friendly than in farms 25 to 30 years ago. Fewer pesticides are now distributed per acre, using precision high-tech nozzles with GPS, so they don't go over the same plot twice. The nozzles can also stop automatically and can even calibrate the correct dose. It's a challenging situation.

In France, they have acknowledged that Parkinson's Disease is an occupational illness and give extra monthly compensation to the many former vineyard workers that are currently ill. Hopefully, the rest of Europe and the world will follow suit.

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