‘Pesticide drift’ puts agriculture workers at risk: study

June 8, 2011

Washington – Agriculture workers have the highest risk of illness from exposure to airborne drifts of pesticides, finds a recent study from NIOSH and state agencies.

The study examined “pesticide drift,” defined as the unintentional movement of pesticides away from the target, in 11 states from 1998 to 2006. Of the 2,945 pesticide poisoning cases examined, 47 percent were work-related exposures. Seventy-three percent of those exposures involved agriculture workers, according to the study abstract.

The vast majority of poisonings – 94 percent – resulted in low-severity illnesses that did not need treatment, including dermatitis and eye, gastric or upper respiratory tract irritation.

Factors associated with pesticide drift included high winds, temperature inversions, premature removal of the tarp covering the site and careless application. NIOSH recommended reducing maximum application rates, using new drift-reduction technologies, and improving training and pesticide labeling.

The study was published online June 6 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.