Organophosphorus compounds generally contain both sulfur and phosphorus linked to carbon atoms. Their discovery was a by-product of the development of nerve gases. The group includes parathion, malathion, dimethoate, diazinon, and chlorfenvinphos. They are used as herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. They break down quickly in the environment and do not concentrate in body fats, although they may be stored for some time. However, their mode of action - inhibition of acet-ylcholine esterase - means that they affect both insects and mammals and their use depends on the effective dose in the target species being below the sensitivity of other species.
Acute effects of sublethal doses of organopho-sphates in man include sweating, salivation, abdominal cramps, vomiting, muscular weakness, and breathing difficulties. Concern has also been expressed about long-term effects following acute exposure. Research suggests that some victims may show reductions in some neurobehavioral tests when tested some months after exposure. There are also concerns that people who do not appear to have suffered acute poisoning have subsequently developed debilitating illnesses. Symptoms include extreme exhaustion, mood changes, memory loss, depression, and severe muscle weakness.
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