Pesticide exposure among agricultural workers varies by job task

Agricultural workers who perform thinning - removing young buds from orchard trees to increase the size of the remaining fruit - face a greater likelihood of pesticide exposure than other farm workers, according to a new findings from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center that appear in the February issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

The researchers found that workers who thinned orchards were more likely to have detectable levels of pesticides in their house and vehicle dust as compared to agricultural workers who did not perform orchard thinning. The study also found that children of thinners were more likely to have detectable levels of pesticide metabolites in their urine than children on non-thinners. These findings support the theory that agricultural workers may track home pesticides on their clothing and shoes.

"Most previous pesticide-exposure research on farm workers has focused on pesticide handlers, such as pesticide mixers, loaders and sprayers, but this study suggests that more research is needed regarding exposure patterns among other types of farm workers as well," said Gloria Coronado, Ph.D., lead author and staff scientist in Fred Hutchinson's Cancer Prevention Program.

The study revealed that approximately 20 percent more thinners had pesticide residue in their home and vehicle dust as compared to non-thinners. The researchers also found that the presence of a dimethyl urinary pesticide metabolite called DMTP was present in children of thinners (10 percent more) than in children of non-thinners. Orchard thinners are thought to be at higher risk for pesticide exposure because thinning usually takes place in the spring, when crops are being sprayed to prevent pests.

Such workers also have substantial physical contact with fruits, leaves, twigs and branches that may contain pesticide residues. In addition, unlike pesticide handlers, thinners are not required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to use pro

Contact: Kristen Woodward
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

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