For years, researchers have suspected commercial pesticides put people at risk for Parkinson’s disease. Now evidence in the San Joaquin Valley suggests it’s true.

Researchers have found a strong connection between the debilitating neurological disease and long-term exposure to pesticides, particularly to a fungicide that is sprayed on thousands of acres of almonds, tree fruit and grapes in the Valley.

The fungicide ziram — the 20th most-used agricultural toxin in California in 2006 — emerged as a common factor in a UCLA study of 400 people with Parkinson’s in the Valley. “People exposed over a 25-year period to ziram have about a threefold increased risk of developing Parkinson’s,” said Jeff Bronstein, professor of neurology and head of the Movement Disorder Center at the University of California at Los Angeles.

More than 660,000 pounds of ziram were used on crops in Fresno, Kings, Madera, Merced, Tulare and Kern counties in 2006, the most recent year for which figures are available. About 1.3 million pounds of the fungicide were used statewide, according to the California Department of Pesticide Control.

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