chemical information


Chemical Class:

Organophosphate Pesticides and Metabolites

Found in these people:

Charlotte Brody, Davis Baltz, Andrea Martin, Monique Harden

Found in these locations:

Round Hill, VA; Berkeley, CA; Sausalito, CA; New Orleans, LA


The organophosphate (OP) pesticides cause significant neurotoxicity in laboratory animals and humans, which is not surprising since they were designed to attack the nervous system of insects. Although these pesticides are not as persistent as some environmental chemicals, they are generally more toxic to the young compared to adults. This means that even short-term exposures, such as during pregnancy or childhood, can result in toxicity. Diethylphosphate is a metabolite of several organophosphate pesticides.

In laboratory animals and humans, the primary target of the OP pesticides is the nervous system. Specific effects in laboratory animals include altered brain weight, cellular changes in the brain, altered neurotransmitter activity, and abnormal behavior. High doses can cause tremors, convulsions, and death. Many OPs also cause developmental toxicity, such as low birth weight and skeletal abnormalities.

Much of what is known about the effects of OP exposure in humans is based on accidental overexposure (home spray, ingestion) and worker studies. From these studies we know that typical signs of OP poisoning are: nausea; diarrhea; muscle twitching; blurred vision; headache; respiratory distress; lightheadedness; memory impairment; numbness (especially in the extremities); altered nerve conduction; abnormal heart rate and coma or death at high doses.

Diethylphosphate (DEP)

Organophosphate pesticides were previously marketed for home use and are now used on produce. Known neurotoxins that are particularly toxic to developing fetuses, infants and children.

Diethylphosphate (DEP) has been found in 4 of the 9 people tested in EWG/Commonweal studies. It has also been found in 4,953 of the 4,966 people tested in CDC biomonitoring studies.

Top health concerns for Diethylphosphate (DEP) (References)

health concern or target organ weight of evidence
Brain and nervous systemunknown

Results for Diethylphosphate (DEP)

in urine

Showing results from EWG/Commonweal Study #1, industrial chemicals and pesticides in adults

EWG/Commonweal results

  • geometric mean: 2.47 ppb in urine
  • found in 4 of 9 people in the group
ppb in urine 9

Diethylphosphate (DEP) results

Detailed toxicity classifications (References)

classification governing entity/references
Nervous system toxicity - weight of evidence unknown/unassessedKamel, F. and J. A. Hoppin (2004). Association of pesticide exposure with neurologic dysfunction and disease. Environ Health Perspect 112(9): 950-8.