Malathion (O,O-dimethyl-S-1,2-bis ethoxy carbonyl ethyl phosphorodithionate) is a non-systemic, wide-spectrum pesticide. It is widely used throughout the world for agricultural, residential, and public health purposes, mainly to enhance food production and to provide protection from disease vectors. Malathion preference over other organophosphate pesticides relates to its low persistence in the environment as it is highly susceptible to hydrolysis, photolysis, and biodegradation. However, numerous malathion poisoning incidents including acute and chronic cases have been reported among pesticide workers and small children through accidental exposure. Malathion toxicity is compounded by its reactive metabolites and also depends upon the product purity, route of exposure, nutritional status, and gender of exposed individuals. Its metabolic oxidation in mammals, insects, and plants leads to the formation of malaoxon which appears to be several times more acutely toxic and represents the primary cause of malathion’s toxicity. Depending on the level of exposure, several signs and symptoms of toxicity including numbness, tingling sensation, headache, dizziness, difficulty breathing, weakness, irritation of skin, exacerbation of asthma, abdominal cramps, and death have been reported. Similar to other organophosphate pesticides, malathion exerts it toxic action by binding to acetylcholinesterase enzyme and inhibiting its activity, leading to accumulation of acetylcholine in synaptic junctions, which in turn results in overstimulation of cholinergic, muscarinic, and nicotinic receptors, and subsequent induction of adverse biologic effects. This chapter provides an update and analysis of the production and use, environmental occurrence, molecular mechanisms of toxicity, genotoxicity and carcinogenicity, and adverse human health effects associated with malathion exposure.
Part of the book: Toxicity and Hazard of Agrochemicals