News and Views

UCC study investigates potential link between pesticides and Parkinson’s Disease

22 Sep 2022
Professor Aideen Sullivan and Dr Lucy Collins Stack at the National Ploughing Championships this week. Photograph by Bereniece Riedewald.

A research team based at University College Cork is seeking volunteers from the farming community in Ireland as part of its study into a potential link between the use of pesticides and Parkinson’s Disease.

Parkinson’s disease is one of the most common degenerative brain disorders, it affects 1 in every 100 of people aged over 60. Over the next 20 years, the number of people living with Parkinson’s is estimated to double from 6.5 million to 13 million. At present around 12,000 people in Ireland are living with Parkinson’s. 

“Our research team is investigating the possible link between Parkinson’s and pesticide exposure on Irish farms,” stated Professor Aideen Sullivan of UCC’s Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience.

“In laboratory settings, certain pesticides can cause Parkinson’s symptoms in rodents. Research in several other countries has established a link between pesticide use and the risk of developing Parkinson’s. Large studies conducted in the United States show that individuals with Parkinson’s are twice as likely to report exposure to pesticides in their lifetime.

“Other studies have found that individuals who have prolonged exposure to pesticides have a 70% higher rate of developing Parkinson’s. In France, the highest rates of Parkinson’s are in areas of vineyards, specifically those with high fungicide use. There is no data on the use of specific types of pesticides and their relationship to Parkinson’s in Ireland,” she said.

In addition to farmworkers, the wider agricultural communities in Ireland can be exposed to pesticides, as these chemicals sometimes travel in the air.

“Some farming pesticides are highly persistent and can be found in treated soils and dust up to decades after application,” Prof. Sullivan added.

“Rural living can mean that people are exposed to pesticides through the air or well water. Our study aims to understand how the use of pesticides may be linked to people with Parkinson’s, as well as their families, with a view to gathering information on the environmental risks associated with Parkinson’s in Ireland,” she said. 

To take part in this research and participate in an online survey, please follow the link or scan the following QR code on a smart device.

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This research project is conducted by Professor Aideen Sullivan and members of her research team at University College Cork. This study has obtained ethical approval from the UCC Social Research Ethics Committee. If you have any queries about this research, you can contact the members of the team at     

Professor Sullivan, Dr Lucy Collins Stack and their postgraduate researchers attended the National Ploughing Championships on 20-22nd September to promote this research study and seek volunteers for the survey.

If you have any concerns as a result of this survey, please contact your own GP, or the specialist who treats you. Also, you can contact the Parkinson’s Association of Ireland (PAI) Helpline on 1800359359.

University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF