Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Original article
Occupational pesticide exposure and subclinical hypothyroidism among male pesticide applicators
  1. Catherine C Lerro1,
  2. Laura E Beane Freeman1,
  3. Curt T DellaValle1,2,
  4. Muhammad G Kibriya3,
  5. Briseis Aschebrook-Kilfoy3,
  6. Farzana Jasmine3,
  7. Stella Koutros1,
  8. Christine G Parks4,
  9. Dale P Sandler4,
  10. Michael C R Alavanja1,5,
  11. Jonathan N Hofmann1,
  12. Mary H Ward1
  1. 1 Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Rockville, Maryland, USA
  2. 2 Environmental Working Group, Washington, DC, USA
  3. 3 Department of Public Health Sciences, The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA
  4. 4 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA
  5. 5 Department of Biology, Hood College, Frederick, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Catherine C Lerro, Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch, National Cancer Institute, 6E116, MSC 7991, Bethesda, MD, USA; lerrocc{at}


Objectives Animal studies suggest that exposure to pesticides may alter thyroid function; however, few epidemiologic studies have examined this association. We evaluated the relationship between individual pesticides and thyroid function in 679 men enrolled in a substudy of the Agricultural Health Study, a cohort of licensed pesticide applicators.

Methods Self-reported lifetime pesticide use was obtained at cohort enrolment (1993-1997). Intensity-weighted lifetime days were computed for 33 pesticides, which adjusts cumulative days of pesticide use for factors that modify exposure (eg, use of personal protective equipment). Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), thyroxine (T4), triiodothyronine (T3) and antithyroid peroxidase (anti-TPO) autoantibodies were measured in serum collected in 2010-2013. We used multivariate logistic regression to estimate ORs and 95% CIs for subclinical hypothyroidism (TSH >4.5 mIU/L) compared with normal TSH (0.4-<4.5 mIU/L) and for anti-TPO positivity. We also examined pesticide associations with TSH, T4 and T3 in multivariate linear regression models.

Results Higher exposure to the insecticide aldrin (third and fourth quartiles of intensity-weighted days vs no exposure) was positively associated with subclinical hypothyroidism (ORQ3=4.15, 95% CI 1.56 to 11.01, ORQ4=4.76, 95% CI 1.53 to 14.82, ptrend <0.01), higher TSH (ptrend=0.01) and lower T4 (ptrend=0.04). Higher exposure to the herbicide pendimethalin was associated with subclinical hypothyroidism (fourth quartile vs no exposure: ORQ4=2.78, 95% CI 1.30 to 5.95, ptrend=0.02), higher TSH (ptrend=0.04) and anti-TPO positivity (ptrend=0.01). The fumigant methyl bromide was inversely associated with TSH (ptrend=0.02) and positively associated with T4 (ptrend=0.01).

Conclusions Our results suggest that long-term exposure to aldrin, pendimethalin and methyl bromide may alter thyroid function among male pesticide applicators.

  • thyroid disease
  • hypothyroidism
  • thyroid stimulating hormone
  • agriculture
  • pesticides

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • JNH and MHW contributed equally.

  • Contributors All contributors meet the criteria for authorship.

  • Funding This work was supported by the intramural research programme of the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute (Z01-CP010119) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (Z01-ES049030).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Ethics approval NCI Special Studies Institutional Review Board and the Institutional Review Boards of other relevant organisations.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.