DW Documentary – Sep 26, 2021
Around the world, more and more people are developing Parkinson’s disease. Many of those affected have chosen a supposedly healthy life among orchards or vineyards in the countryside. Is the disease related to the use of pesticides?
“I noticed it when I was pruning roses,” says Ulrich Elixmann. His hands simply didn’t function anymore. He saw a doctor, and the diagnosis was a shock: He had Parkinson’s disease. Today he is 60 years old. He takes 13 tablets a day, does gymnastics, occupational therapy and speech therapy. He hopes to slow the disease’s progression, and with it symptoms like a stiffening face and increasing immobility. But the questions continue to gnaw at him: Why Parkinson’s, and why him? And, why are other gardeners and farmers he knows also being affected?
The number of Parkinson’s sufferers has doubled since the 1990s. In Germany alone, about 400,000 people have it. Researchers like Bas Bloem of Radboud University in the Netherlands are calling it a pandemic: They say it is the fastest growing neurological disease in the world, and is mainly caused by environmental factors. Heavily industrialized countries are particularly affected, as numerous chemicals find their way into the environment.
Despite more and more studies showing increased risks among agricultural workers and gardeners, Parkinson’s is not yet considered an occupational disease in Germany. But in France, things are different. Sylvie Berger is from Bordelais, one of Europe’s major wine-growing regions. Particularly high amounts of pesticides are used there, and Sylvie Berger, who worked in viticulture, now suffers from Parkinson’s. If she receives an occupational disability pension, then why not the gardener Ulrich Elixmann from Germany?