NIOSH Articles Deal With Pesticide Exposures in Retail Employees, Farm Workers

NIOSH scientists and their colleagues recently published two articles that provide findings and recommendations on work-related pesticide exposures.

In the March-April 2007 issue of Public Health Reports, a peer-reviewed journal of the U.S. Public Health Service, NIOSH reported on a study conducted to describe the national magnitude and characteristics of acute pesticide poisoning among workers and customers in retail establishments.

Analyses included retail employees 15 to 64 years of age and customers with acute pesticide poisoning identified from the Sentinel Event Notification System for Occupational Risks-Pesticides and California Department of Pesticide Regulation from 1998 to 2004. Pesticide poisoning incidence rates and incidence rate ratios were calculated.

A total of 325 cases of acute pesticide poisoning were identified. Of these cases, 287 (88 percent) were retail employees and 38 (12 percent) were customers. Overall, retail employees had a significantly lower acute pesticide poisoning incidence rate compared with non-agricultural, non-retail employees. However, significantly elevated pesticide poisoning incidence rates were observed for four retail occupations (janitors, stock handlers/baggers, bakery/deli clerks and shipping/receiving handlers). In addition, workers employed in two retail industry sectors (farm supply stores and hardware stores) had significantly elevated acute pesticide poisoning incidence rates.

The article recommended strategic measures to reduce the risk of such cases. The article can be accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/pesticides/phr2007.html.

In an article available on-line from the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers examined three incidences in 2004 and 2005 in Florida and North Carolina in which infants with birth defects were born to farmworkers who had recently worked in fields treated with pesticides. In February 2005, three infants with congenital anomalies were identified in Collier County, Fla., who were born within eight weeks of each other and whose mothers worked for the same tomato grower. The mothers worked on the grower's Florida farms in 2004 before transferring to its North Carolina farms. All three worked during the period of organogenesis in fields recently treated with several pesticides. The Florida and North Carolina farms were inspected by regulatory agencies, and in each state, a large number of violations were identified and record fines were levied.

Despite the suggestive evidence, a causal link could not be established between pesticide exposures and the birth defects in the three infants. Nonetheless, the prenatal pesticide exposures experienced by the mother's of the three infants is cause for concern. Farmworkers need greater protections against pesticides. These include increased efforts to publicize and comply with both EPA's Worker Protection Standard and pesticide label requirements, enhanced procedures to ensure pesticide applicator competency, and recommendations to growers to adopt work practices to reduce pesticide exposures.

The report can be accessed in PDF format at http://www.ehponline.org/members/2007/9647/9647.pdf.

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