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Keywords:

  • pesticides;
  • surveillance;
  • poisoning;
  • agriculture;
  • farmworkers

Abstract

Background

Approximately 75% of pesticide usage in the United States occurs in agriculture. As such, agricultural workers are at greater risk of pesticide exposure than non-agricultural workers. However, the magnitude, characteristics and trend of acute pesticide poisoning among agricultural workers are unknown.

Methods

We identified acute pesticide poisoning cases in agricultural workers between the ages of 15 and 64 years that occurred from 1998 to 2005. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation and the SENSOR-Pesticides program provided the cases. Acute occupational pesticide poisoning incidence rates (IR) for those employed in agriculture were calculated, as were incidence rate ratios (IRR) among agricultural workers relative to non-agricultural workers.

Results

Of the 3,271 cases included in the analysis, 2,334 (71%) were employed as farmworkers. The remaining cases were employed as processing/packing plant workers (12%), farmers (3%), and other miscellaneous agricultural workers (19%). The majority of cases had low severity illness (N = 2,848, 87%), while 402 (12%) were of medium severity and 20 (0.6%) were of high severity. One case was fatal. Rates of illness among various agricultural worker categories were highly variable but all, except farmers, showed risk for agricultural workers greater than risk for non-agricultural workers by an order of magnitude or more. Also, the rate among female agricultural workers was almost twofold higher compared to males.

Conclusion

The findings from this study suggest that acute pesticide poisoning in the agricultural industry continues to be an important problem. These findings reinforce the need for heightened efforts to better protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure. Am. J. Ind. Med. 51:883–898, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.