Changes needed to reduce migrant farm worker exposure to pesticides

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. Despite federal guidelines to protect migrant farm workers and their families from pesticide exposure, these chemicals still pose an important health risk that won't be reduced without several changes, according to researchers from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in the current issue of The Lancet.

"Changes in housing, hygiene procedures and pesticide application are essential to protect the health of these workers and their families," said Thomas A. Arcury, Ph.D. "Although the symptoms of pesticide exposure are well known, we are only now learning their immediate and delayed health effects."

Adults exposed to pesticides can experience neurological deficits, increased risk of cancer, and reproductive problems. Effects for children can include birth defects and developmental delay.

Arcury, professor of family medicine, and Sara Quandt, Ph.D., professor of public health sciences, are co-authors of the essay, which is based on their 10-year study of pesticide exposure among North Carolina farm workers.

According to the essay, in an average year in the United States approximately 950 million tons of pesticides are applied to crops. Ten years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued the Worker Protection Standard, setting standards for safety training and hygiene related to these pesticides. However, a report by the U.S. Government Accounting Office found that the standards have failed to halt farm workers' exposure to pesticides.

The Wake Forest study confirmed the finding. For example, analysis of "wipe" samples from the floors, children's toys and children's hands of one farm worker family found two different agricultural pesticides. Urine samples from the worker, his wife and two of their four children found evidence of exposure to six pesticide metabolites (breakdown products that are evidence of a variety of pesticides). "This worker and his family are typical of the farm worker families in

Contact: Karen Richardson or Shannon Koontz
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

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