ANAHEIM, Calif., March 23 -- Clothes may soon be able to protect agricultural workers, or even weekend gardeners, from more than the sun. Scientists at the University of California in Davis say they have made cotton fabrics with built-in pesticide detoxifiers. They add that clothes made with the new material could be cleaned and the detoxifying chemicals reactivated simply by washing them with bleach. The development was detailed today at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.
Past studies report that up to 97% of pesticides entering the body do so through the skin. Currently, workers exposed to high levels of pesticides must wear synthetic materials to block entry of pesticides. Because such clothing does not allow entry of air, they create heat stress. Workers exposed to lower levels of pesticide, therefore, have to choose between comfort and protection. In addition, today's protective clothing must be discarded after use, which can be costly and create additional environmental concerns.
"I had a chance to go to some of the strawberry fields in California," says University of California graduate student Louise L. Ko, "and you'd be surprised to see the harvesters just wear regular denim jeans and t-shirts," rather than wear the uncomfortable protective gear.
Ko and UC faculty advisor Gang Sun, Ph.D., decided to go beyond blocking the pesticides, trying instead to decompose them on contact. They grafted a chemical compound, called a hydantoin, to the surface of common cotton/polyester fabrics. Ko hoped "it would be breathable and comfortable, as well as giving (the field workers) some kind of protection." When armed with a chlorine atom and exposed to certain pesticides called carbamates, she says the activated compound "breaks down the pesticide into smaller, unharmful fragments."
After a day's work, garments made by this process could be tossed in the wash
chlorine bleach. "The small
Contact: Charmayne Marsh
American Chemical Society