Organophosphates Poisoning: A backgrounder

Organophosphates Poisoning: A backgrounder

  • According to WHO classification of Pesticides by Hazard, organophosphate pesticides belong to class 1, which means the pesticide is extremely/highly hazardous.
  • The organophosphates are commonly found in various commercial pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides.
  • The organophosphates present in the pesticides enters the human body through:
    • Skin
    • Lungs when inhaled 10-15%
    • Enters the blood stream when ingested


What do they do?

  • The organophosphates pesticides cause harm by primarily inhibiting a critical enzyme in the nervous system called acetylcholinesterase (AChE).
  • Inhibition of AChE leads neurological disorders, suffocation, paralysis, and even death.
  • AChE inhibition also leads to cardiotoxicity, reduced immunity, infertility, and delayed sexual maturation.
  • Further the pesticides are known to impede neurodevelopment in children and increase susceptibility to neuropsychiatric disorders.


Basics about neurotransmitters and Acetylcholinesterase

  • The neurotransmitters present in the Central and Peripheral nervous system primarily help the nerves to communicate with one another and with muscle cells in the body.
  • Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that carries signals from nerve cells to muscle cells.
  • Whenever there is a communication between a motor nerve cell and the nervous system acetylcholine is released into its synapses with muscle cells.
  • This acetylcholine released thus triggers the process of muscle movement.
  • Once the message is passed, the neurotransmitter must be destroyed failing which it gets accumulated.
  • Accumulation of neurotransmitters inturn causes paralyzing of muscles.
  • Acetylcholinesterase is the enzyme that is responsible for the essential function destroying this neurotransmitter.
  • Acetylcholinesterase is found in the synapse between nerve cells and muscle cells.
  • It does so by breaking down the acetylcholine into its two component parts, acetic acid and choline.


How does poly-Oxime gel work?

  • The gel, named poly-Oxime, acts as a catalyst by deactivating the organophosphates by hydrolysing them in the skin itself.
  • Hydrolysing basically involves converting ester into acid and thus breaking down the organophosphates.
  • Thus it prevents organophosphates from entering the internal organs like brain, lung, liver, and heart.
  • Thus the gel deactivates the pesticides thereby limiting the inhibition of the enzyme.



  • While the gel prevents organophosphates from entering the body through skin, they can still enter the body through inhalation and ingestion.
  • Thus the gel is not an effective barrier to pesticide vapour.
Section : Environment & Ecology