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Organophosphorus Pesticides

  1. Jan E. Storm Ph.D.

Published Online: 17 AUG 2012

DOI: 10.1002/0471435139.tox095.pub2

Patty's Toxicology

Patty's Toxicology

How to Cite

Storm, J. E. 2012. Organophosphorus Pesticides. Patty's Toxicology. 95:1077–1234.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 17 AUG 2012


Most organophosphorus compounds today fall into two general groups: the so-called nerve agents, that are very acutely toxic and organophosphorus pesticides that are less toxic. Nerve agents were generally the first toxic organophosphorus developed, and were the original basis for organophosphorus pesticides. Interest about nerve agents has increased lately given concerns about their potential use in terrorist acts. Organophosphate nerve agents and pesticides are a highly diverse group of chemicals. They are all characterized by their ability to inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE) that deactivates the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh).

At present, the widest use of organophosphorus compounds is as pesticides, although they have also been used as therapeutic agents, gasoline additives, hydraulic fluids, cotton defoliants, fire retardants, plastic components, growth regulators, and industrial intermediates to a much smaller extent.

Compounds in this class are numerous and have been categorized in many ways according to the nature of the substituents. Gallo and Lawryk (1991) [2], for example, categorized them into four main groups I–IV based on the characteristics of the leaving group (X). Group I compounds, phosphorylcholines, have a leaving group that contains a quaternary nitrogen and are among the most potent organophosphates (e.g., Shradan). Group II compounds, fluorophosphates, have a fluoride leaving group and are also generally highly toxic (e.g., diisopropyl fluorophosphate). Group III compounds have leaving groups that contain cyanide or a halogen other than fluoride and are generally less potent than group I or II (e.g., Parathion). Group IV contains most of the organophosphates used as insecticides today. These compounds have alkoxy, alkylthio, aryloxy, arylthio, or heterocyclic leaving groups and a wide variety of other substituents.

Another classification scheme is based on the nature of the atoms that immediately surround the central phosphorus atom and results in 14 different categories. According to this scheme, phosphates are the prototype for the entire class and are those compounds where all four atoms that surround the phosphorus atom are oxygen (e.g., dichlorvos, mevinphos). Sulfur-containing organophosphate compounds (phosphorothioates, phosphorothiolates, phosphorodithioates, and phosphorodithiolates) are far more numerous than phosphates and include well-recognized organophosphate insecticides such as parathion, diazinon, chlorpyrifos, etc. Other groups contain nitrogen (phosphoramides and phosphorodiamides), nitrogen and sulfur (phosphoramidothionates and phosphoramidothiolates), carbon (phosphonates and phosphinates), or carbon and sulfur (phosphonothionates, phosphonothionothiolates, and phosphinothionates).

All aspects of organophosphate chemistry, toxicity, analysis, and exposure potential have been previously and comprehensively reviewed. In addition, information regarding the toxicity of organophosphorus pesticides in particular has expanded greatly in recent years as a result of toxicity data supplied by registrants to the U.S. EPA's Office of Pesticides to support reregistration. These data have been made publicly available by the U.S. EPA on its Internet Web site ( The following discussion draws heavily from recent reviews and also includes summaries of relevant toxicity data submitted to, and made available by, the U.S. EPA.


  • orthophosphate-induced delayed neuropathy;
  • cancer;
  • pesticides;
  • symptoms;
  • treatment;
  • intermediate syndrome red blood cell acetylcholinesterase;
  • urinary alkylphosphates;
  • analytical methods;
  • mechanism of action;
  • organophosphorus compounds