The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is organizing three studies exploring the causes of an ailment afflicting thousands of sugarcane workers.

For more than two years, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has examined how chronic kidney disease is afflicting agricultural workers along Central America’s Pacific Coast, as well as in Sri Lanka and India. A recent study estimated that the ailment has killed more than 20,000 people in Central America alone. Most scientists suspect the disease is caused by a combination of factors including chronic dehydration from hard labor in tropical heat and exposure to toxins such as pesticides.

The team conducting the CDC and industry-backed study will be led by Boston University epidemiologist Daniel Brooks. He previously conducted a study of CKD in Chichigalpa that was organized by the World Bank. One study will examine the role of occupational factors in the disease, a second the possibility of a genetic component, and a third the process of early-onset kidney damage among adolescents in the affected areas. The research will be funded by $1.7 million in contributions from the Central American sugar industry.