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Special Study to Examine Pesticide's Links with Parkinson's Disease

NRA 00/13 13 November 2000

The National Registration Authority for Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (the NRA) is to conduct a detailed study into the pesticide, rotenone, following recent research findings from a US university linking rotenone to the degenerative Parkinson's disease. The study will determine what implications the research by Emory University might have, if any, for chemical products containing rotenone registered for sale in Australia.

Rotenone is a naturally occurring substance found in the root of certain plants, members of the legume family. It can be used as a pesticide by organic farmers and in a range of home garden and animal care products.

The study, to begin immediately, will involve an assessment of all available relevant scientific data.

In line with normal procedure in these cases, the NRA will work closely with the federal health authorities, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), for technical advice on public health issues in the conduct of the study.

In the TGA's preliminary examination of available information, including the overview of the US research, they noted that:

'In order to produce the brain lesions specific for Parkinson's disease, the Emory University researchers had to infuse rotenone directly into the rat bloodstream for up to five weeks. Studies conducted by the US National Toxicology Program in 1988, in which rats and mice received rotenone in their diets over a lifetime, appeared to show no evidence of any degenerative brain damage. This suggests that the route of exposure may be quite important in determining how much toxic material gets to critical sites in the brain.

The main products used as pesticides by organic farmers and home gardeners are based on Derris dust, which is the powdered extract of the Derris root. The rotenone content of Derris dust is generally less than 1 percent so this may be a basis for an amelioration of concern about this type of product.'

The Emory University research involved the injection of high concentrations of rotenone directly into the bloodstream of laboratory animals. Whereas, when people use the chemical in the home garden it is done irregularly, in a very diluted form with potential contact being primarily on the skin.

The NRA therefore considers that it is highly unlikely that the new study will identify any reasons for public concern in these latest research findings.

However the NRA believes that the findings of a well-conducted scientific study from a respected institution cannot be ignored and deserve proper examination along with the other scientific data available on rotenone.

The special study will focus directly on the possible relationship between the results of the laboratory research involving rotenone administered to rats and any likely impact on human health of the use of the products in Australia.

For products containing rotenone, as with any other chemical product, the NRA strongly recommends that the user strictly follow the instructions setout on the label.

Ensuring that agricultural and veterinary chemicals registered for use in Australia are safe for humans is a fundamental objective for the NRA.

The NRA regulates the supply of agricultural and veterinary chemical products into the Australian market. It assesses all aspects of the safety and performance of these products and determines if their use is likely to jeopardise trade.