Logo of envhperEnvironmental Health PerspectivesBrowse ArticlesAbout EHPGeneral InformationAuthorsMediaProgramsPartnerships
Environ Health Perspect. 1991 Dec; 96: 213–222.
PMCID: PMC1568222
Contributed Articles

Weight of the evidence on the human carcinogenicity of 2,4-D*


The phenoxy herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) is widely used to control the growth of weeds and broadleaf plants. We convened a panel of 13 scientists to weigh the evidence on the human carcinogenicity of 2,4-D. The panel based its findings on a review of the toxicological and epidemiological literature on 2,4-D and related phenoxy herbicides. The toxicological data do not provide a strong basis for predicting that 2,4-D is a human carcinogen. Although a cause–effect relationship is far from being established, the epidemiological evidence for an association between exposure to 2,4-D and non–Hodgkin's lymphoma is suggestive and requires further investigation. There is little evidence of an association between use of 2,4-D and soft-tissue sarcoma or Hodgkin's disease, and no evidence of an association between 2,4-D use and any other form of cancer. Scientists on the panel were asked to categorize 2,4-D as a “known,” “probable,” “possible,” or “unlikely” carcinogen or as a noncarcinogen in humans. The predominant opinion among the panel members was that the weight of the evidence indicates that it is possible that exposure to 2,4-D can cause cancer in humans, although not all of the panelists believed the possibility was equally likely: one thought the possibility was strong, leaning toward probable, and five thought the possibility was remote, leaning toward unlikely. Two panelists believed it unlikely that 2,4-D can cause cancer in humans.

Full text

Full text is available as a scanned copy of the original print version. Get a printable copy (PDF file) of the complete article (2.2M), or click on a page image below to browse page by page. Links to PubMed are also available for Selected References.

Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • Frank R, Campbell RA, Sirons GJ. Forestry workers involved in aerial application of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D): exposure and urinary excretion. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 1985 Jul;14(4):427–435. [PubMed]
  • Grover R, Franklin CA, Muir NI, Cessna AJ, Riedel D. Dermal exposure and urinary metabolite excretion in farmers repeatedly exposed to 2,4-D amine. Toxicol Lett. 1986 Oct;33(1-3):73–83. [PubMed]
  • Fisher HL, Most B, Hall LL. Dermal absorption of pesticides calculated by deconvolution. J Appl Toxicol. 1985 Jun;5(3):163–177. [PubMed]
  • Feldmann RJ, Maibach HI. Percutaneous penetration of some pesticides and herbicides in man. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 1974 Apr;28(1):126–132. [PubMed]
  • Sauerhoff MW, Braun WH, Blau GE, Gehring PJ. The fate of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) following oral administration to man. Toxicology. 1977 Aug;8(1):3–11. [PubMed]
  • Mattsson JL, Albee RR, Johnson KA, Quast JF. Neurotoxicologic examination of rats dermally exposed to 2,4-D amine for three weeks. Neurobehav Toxicol Teratol. 1986 May-Jun;8(3):255–263. [PubMed]
  • Mattsson JL, Johnson KA, Albee RR. Lack of neuropathologic consequences of repeated dermal exposure to 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid in rats. Fundam Appl Toxicol. 1986 Jan;6(1):175–181. [PubMed]
  • Linnainmaa K. Induction of sister chromatid exchanges by the peroxisome proliferators 2,4-D, MCPA, and clofibrate in vivo and in vitro. Carcinogenesis. 1984 Jun;5(6):703–707. [PubMed]
  • Lamb JC, 4th, Marks TA, Gladen BC, Allen JW, Moore JA. Male fertility, sister chromatid exchange, and germ cell toxicity following exposure to mixtures of chlorinated phenoxy acids containing 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin. J Toxicol Environ Health. 1981 Nov-Dec;8(5-6):825–834. [PubMed]
  • Swenberg JA. Brain tumours--problems and perspectives. Food Chem Toxicol. 1986 Feb;24(2):155–158. [PubMed]
  • Blair A, Malker H, Cantor KP, Burmeister L, Wiklund K. Cancer among farmers. A review. Scand J Work Environ Health. 1985 Dec;11(6):397–407. [PubMed]
  • Bond GG, Bodner KM, Cook RR. Phenoxy herbicides and cancer: insufficient epidemiologic evidence for a causal relationship. Fundam Appl Toxicol. 1989 Jan;12(1):172–188. [PubMed]
  • Hardell L, Sandström A. Case-control study: soft-tissue sarcomas and exposure to phenoxyacetic acids or chlorophenols. Br J Cancer. 1979 Jun;39(6):711–717. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Eriksson M, Hardell L, Berg NO, Möller T, Axelson O. Soft-tissue sarcomas and exposure to chemical substances: a case-referent study. Br J Ind Med. 1981 Feb;38(1):27–33. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Hardell L. Relation of soft-tissue sarcoma, malignant lymphoma and colon cancer to phenoxy acids, chlorophenols and other agents. Scand J Work Environ Health. 1981 Jun;7(2):119–130. [PubMed]
  • Hardell L, Eriksson M, Lenner P, Lundgren E. Malignant lymphoma and exposure to chemicals, especially organic solvents, chlorophenols and phenoxy acids: a case-control study. Br J Cancer. 1981 Feb;43(2):169–176. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Colton T. Herbicide exposure and cancer. JAMA. 1986 Sep 5;256(9):1176–1178. [PubMed]
  • Smith AH, Pearce NE, Fisher DO, Giles HJ, Teague CA, Howard JK. Soft tissue sarcoma and exposure to phenoxyherbicides and chlorophenols in New Zealand. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1984 Nov;73(5):1111–1117. [PubMed]
  • Vineis P, Terracini B, Ciccone G, Cignetti A, Colombo E, Donna A, Maffi L, Pisa R, Ricci P, Zanini E, et al. Phenoxy herbicides and soft-tissue sarcomas in female rice weeders. A population-based case-referent study. Scand J Work Environ Health. 1987 Feb;13(1):9–17. [PubMed]
  • Pearce NE, Smith AH, Howard JK, Sheppard RA, Giles HJ, Teague CA. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and exposure to phenoxyherbicides, chlorophenols, fencing work, and meat works employment: a case-control study. Br J Ind Med. 1986 Feb;43(2):75–83. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Pearce NE, Sheppard RA, Smith AH, Teague CA. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and farming: an expanded case-control study. Int J Cancer. 1987 Feb 15;39(2):155–161. [PubMed]
  • Pearce N. Phenoxy herbicides and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in New Zealand: frequency and duration of herbicide use. Br J Ind Med. 1989 Feb;46(2):143–144. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Hoar SK, Blair A, Holmes FF, Boysen CD, Robel RJ, Hoover R, Fraumeni JF., Jr Agricultural herbicide use and risk of lymphoma and soft-tissue sarcoma. JAMA. 1986 Sep 5;256(9):1141–1147. [PubMed]
  • Woods JS, Polissar L, Severson RK, Heuser LS, Kulander BG. Soft tissue sarcoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in relation to phenoxyherbicide and chlorinated phenol exposure in western Washington. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1987 May;78(5):899–910. [PubMed]
  • Zahm SH, Weisenburger DD, Babbitt PA, Saal RC, Vaught JB, Cantor KP, Blair A. A case-control study of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and the herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) in eastern Nebraska. Epidemiology. 1990 Sep;1(5):349–356. [PubMed]
  • Lynge E. A follow-up study of cancer incidence among workers in manufacture of phenoxy herbicides in Denmark. Br J Cancer. 1985 Aug;52(2):259–270. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Riihimäki V, Asp S, Hernberg S. Mortality of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid herbicide applicators in Finland: first report of an ongoing prospective cohort study. Scand J Work Environ Health. 1982 Mar;8(1):37–42. [PubMed]
  • Bond GG, Wetterstroem NH, Roush GJ, McLaren EA, Lipps TE, Cook RR. Cause specific mortality among employees engaged in the manufacture, formulation, or packaging of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and related salts. Br J Ind Med. 1988 Feb;45(2):98–105. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Green LM. A cohort mortality study of forestry workers exposed to phenoxy acid herbicides. Br J Ind Med. 1991 Apr;48(4):234–238. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Wiklund K, Dich J, Holm LE. Risk of malignant lymphoma in Swedish pesticide appliers. Br J Cancer. 1987 Oct;56(4):505–508. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

Articles from Environmental Health Perspectives are provided here courtesy of National Institute of Environmental Health Science


Save items

Related citations in PubMed

See reviews...See all...

Cited by other articles in PMC

See all...


  • Cited in Books
    Cited in Books
    NCBI Bookshelf books that cite the current articles.
  • Compound
    PubChem chemical compound records that cite the current articles. These references are taken from those provided on submitted PubChem chemical substance records. Multiple substance records may contribute to the PubChem compound record.
  • PubMed
    PubMed citations for these articles
  • Substance
    PubChem chemical substance records that cite the current articles. These references are taken from those provided on submitted PubChem chemical substance records.

Recent Activity

Your browsing activity is empty.

Activity recording is turned off.

Turn recording back on

See more...