Pesticides are inherently toxic substances to humans– they are developed and used to destroy or prevent growth or infestations of unwanted insects, plants, and other pests in agricultural, commercial, industrial, and household settings.
According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), approximately 1.1 billion pounds of pesticide are used annually in the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 10,000-20,000 physician-diagnosed pesticide poisonings occur each year among the approximately 2 million agricultural workers on U.S. soil.
Agricultural workers, groundskeepers, pet groomers, fumigators, and a variety of other occupations are at risk for exposure to pesticides in the form of fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, rodenticides, and sanitizers.
Findings in a recent EPA report show pesticides pose risks of short- and long- term illness to farmworkers and their families.
Immediate health effects of pesticide exposure include rash, eye irritation, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, and headaches. More serious acute effects include difficulty breathing, seizures, loss of consciousness and death.
Chronic (long-term) health effects can result in cancer, neurological disorders, hormonal and reproductive health problems, birth defects and infertility. Even low levels of pesticide exposure over time can result in chronic health effects.
The exact number of workers injured each year by pesticides is unknown, because there is no national surveillance system for acute pesticide illness reporting and no surveillance system for tracking chronic illness related to pesticide exposure.
This year, the EPA released updated rules intended to keep farmworkers from being poisoned by pesticides. The previous “worker protection standard” for farms was employed since 1992.
The new rules, which go into effect fall 2016, require farms to make a host of changes. Employers will have to train workers on the risks of pesticides every year, rather than every five years. Workers will have to stay farther away from contaminated fields. Farmers will have to keep more records on exactly when and where they used specific pesticides. And no children under the age of 18 will be allowed to handle the chemicals.
If you are a farmer, a migrant farmer, or a migrant agricultural worker it’s important that you }know that your employer or the place of employment observe the National Institute of Occupational Safety (NIOSH) and Health guidelines.
These guidelines are readily available on the CDC site for disease control and prevention under pesticide, illness, and injury surveillance.