Study shows need for compliance with pesticide drift regulations
Researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health worked with agencies from 11 states to determine the risk of illness from exposure to airborne drifts of pesticides. About half the nearly 3,000 cases identified involved occupational exposures, mainly agricultural workers, especially women and younger employees.
Pesticide drift is the unintended airborne movement of pesticides away from a target application site and may occur as spray, vapor, odor or other forms. While the illnesses associated with the cases were generally low level, they were largely preventable, the researchers said.
Symptoms included irritation to the eyes, upper respiratory and gastric systems, and dermatitis. Exposure can also cause skin irritation, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, cough, respiratory pain, chest pain, fatigue and fever.
Soil applications with fumigants were responsible for nearly half of all cases. Aerial applications also accounted for many of the exposure incidents.
The most common factors contributing to pesticide drift cases were identified as:
- Weather conditions, such as high winds and temperature inversion.
- Improper seal of the fumigation site, such as tarp tears.
- Applicator carelessness near non-target areas, such as failing to turn off a nozzle at the end of each row being sprayed.
Current regulations require agricultural employers to protect workers from exposure to agricultural pesticides and pesticide product labels to instruct applicators to avoid contacting humans directly or through drift.
The Environmental Protection Agency regulates the drift of fumigants separately from non-fumigant pesticides. The agency recently adopted new safety requirements for soil fumigants.
The researchers said new buffer zone requirements may not be sufficient to prevent drift exposure in the absence of other safety measures.
"These findings show the need to reinforce compliance with regulatory requirements for applications," the study said. "Other measures may include reducing maximum application rates, using new, validated drift-reduction technologies as they become available, improving training of pesticide applicators, and improving pesticide labels so that directions for use are clear, flexible, practical and enforceable," the researchers said.
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July 18, 2011
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