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NIOSH Study Reveals Pesticide Drift Dangers

Results being released from a new study completed by the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health confirms the risk faced by agricultural workers who are exposed to airborne drifts of pesticides.

Published on-line in Environmental Health Perspectives, the study, titled “Acute pesticide illnesses associated with off-target pesticide drift from agricultural applications — 11 States, 1998–2006,” is the first comprehensive report to be done of multistate surveillance data on drift-related pesticide poisoning in the United States, according to its authors.

Pesticide poisoning can irritate the eyes and skin, as well as cause dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, cough, respiratory irritation and pain, chest pain, fatigue, and fever. Pesticide drift is the term for unintended airborne movement of pesticide spray, vapor, or odor from a target application site “and is recognized as a major cause of pesticide exposure affecting people, wildlife, and the environment,” according to NIOSH.

Of 2,945 pesticide poisoning cases associated with drift in 11 states during 1996-2008, agricultural workers had the highest incidence rate of drift-related pesticide illness (114.3 cases per 1 million people). This was 145 times greater than the rate for non-agricultural workers; the rate for residents in five agricultural-intensive counties in California was 42.2 cases per million, still 69 times higher than the rate in other California counties.

In addition, 53 percent of the 2,945 cases involved non-occupational exposures while 47 percent were work-related exposures. Soil applications with fumigants caused 45 percent of the cases and aerial applications caused 24 percent.

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