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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Colorado: Chronic Kidney Disease Epidemic May Be Result of High Heat, Toxins

A mysterious epidemic of chronic kidney disease among agricultural workers and manual laborers may be caused by a combination of increasingly hot temperatures, toxins, according to a New England Journal of Medicine paper by researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health and University of Colorado School of Medicine.

In recent years, chronic kidney disease has emerged as a major illness among workers in hot climates. It was first identified in the 1990s by clinicians treating sugar cane workers in Central America. In 2012, it claimed roughly 20,000 lives and has now been identified in California, Florida and in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

Co-authors Drs. Lee Newman and Richard Johnson believe the epidemic is caused by a combination of heat and some kind of toxin, and its recent spread into the northern hemisphere supports their suspicion that climate change may play a role.

In addition to heat exposure, they’ve explored the contribution of toxins in pesticides that have effects on kidney function.

The authors recognize the need to take preventative action immediately. That means ensuring workers get adequate breaks, drink enough fluids and spend time in the shade. It also means maintaining a clean water supply, free of chemicals toxic to the kidneys.

“When clinicians detect clusters of patients with chronic kidney disease who work for the same employer or in similar jobs,” the authors said, “they should contact occupational health and safety and public health professionals to promote investigations of workplace conditions.”

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