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  1. Dana Loomis, Deputy Editor

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    The human health effects of most pesticides are not well defined, despite extensive study. In new research from Mexico, Lacasaña and colleagues1 investigate the association of anencephaly with agricultural work and exposure to pesticides. The authors identified cases from a population based registry, matched them to controls from the same hospitals, and assessed exposures by questionnaire. The risk of anencephaly was modestly elevated if the mother had ever done farm work, and pronounced increases in risk were seen when the mother worked in agriculture in the weeks around conception (4.6 times) or the father had worked as a pesticide applicator in that interval or before it (about 2 times). The authors suggest their findings are compatible with the hypothesis that exposure to agricultural pesticides may lead to birth defects through paternally or maternally mediated pathways.

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    Recent events have drawn attention to the risks to emergency personnel attending disasters. While acute outcomes like the deaths of rescue workers following terrorist attacks are well documented, the chronic effects on survivors may be difficult to identify. Research on police and fire-fighters who assisted at a 1992 air crash in Amsterdam highlights long term concerns, as well as the challenges of studying them. Huizink et al2 followed a cohort of police and fire-fighters exposed to disaster related work following the crash and unexposed colleagues on duty at the same time. After 8.5 years, the two groups had similar objective laboratory findings, but the exposed personnel reported more mental and physical health problems. In an accompanying commentary,3 Page and Wessely discuss possible explanations for the conflicting findings, including the political and social environment following the disaster.

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    Research on the health effects of air pollution is shifting to the pursuit of mechanisms that might explain the observed associations with mortality and morbidity. Sarnat and colleagues4 investigated the relationship of cardiac arrhythmia is a sample of 32 older adults living in an industrial area using weekly electrocardiograms conducted over 24 weeks in summer and autumn. The odds of supraventricular ectopy increased with exposure to PM2.5, sulphate, and ozone. The effect of PM2.5 was stronger among people who had had heart attacks previously, but there was no association with other air pollutants and none involving ventricular ectopy.

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    Among the other papers in this month’s issue are studies examining the association of lymphoma and pesticides among farmers,5 a simple intervention for reducing sick leave,6 cardiovascular effects of job loss,7 hepatic injury among workers exposed to dimethylacetamide,8 and factors influencing exposure to styrene oxide in the reinforced plastics industry.9

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