Health Day, December 12, 2003

 

 

Pesticide Exposure High in Migrant Workers
Housing, proximity to fields, lack of safety guidelines seen as cause

By Janice Billingsley
HealthDay Reporter

 

FRIDAY, Dec. 12 (HealthDayNews) -- Migrant workers, often living in substandard

housing and near the fields where they work, are at high risk for overexposure to

pesticides, says a Wake Forest University study.

 

In a study of 41 families living in North Carolina and Virginia who had at least one

family member employed in harvesting tobacco, food or Christmas trees, researchers

found both agricultural and residential pesticides were present in 95 percent of the homes.

 

"These families have greater exposure than is typical of the U.S. population," says Sara Quandt,

a professor of public health at Wake Forest and co-author of the study, which appeared in the

Nov. 12 online edition of Environmental Health Perspectives.

 

An essay on the topic also appears in the Dec. 13 issue of The Lancet.

 

Quandt and her Wake Forest colleague, Thomas A. Acury, wiped childrens' hands,

their toys and the floors of the homes they studied. In addition, they took urine

samples from the families. They found traces of eight agricultural pesticides and

3 pesticides commonly found in homes. The latter, called residential pesticides,

are most often used for bug control, she says.

 

A number of factors put migrant workers at higher risk than the general population,

Quandt says. The workers tend to live near to the farms where they work, and sprayed

agricultural pesticides drift into the homes. Also, they carry the agricultural pesticides

on their clothing and skin into their homes.

 

Moreover, their houses "are frequently, though not always" in poor repair, she says.

Holes in the walls or floors and/or lack of screens mean that bugs have easy entry,

and cramped quarters with too much furniture and little storage space makes cleaning

difficult. To keep the bugs at bay, families tend to resort to strong residential pesticides,

and this is where education is needed.

 

"Pesticide safety education focuses on the workplace and on agricultural pesticides,

but not on the home," she says. "Federal requirements mandate that workers must

be trained, but the family is not required to be trained, and we need to develop

educational materials for the community to use themselves to protect their families."

 

Quandt says that the Worker Protection Standard mandated by the Environmental

Protection Agency a decade ago requires that migrant workers be instructed in

standard hygiene -- such as washing after work, keeping work clothes separate

from regular clothes, and recognizing the posters that must be hung where

pesticides are being used in fields.

 

What's also needed are guides to help families use less pesticides in their homes, Quandt says.

 

"Infestation should initially be controlled minimally," she says. "Fix leaky pipes,

because bugs are drawn to water, keep food locked up, repair screens. Then go

to sticky paper and traps. Pesticide use should be the last resort."

 

The agricultural pesticide residue the researchers found included organophosphates,

which are non-persistent pesticides, meaning that they break down in the outdoors.

Unfortunately, Quandt says, they don't break down when inside the house, so they

can linger on indoor surfaces for a long time.

 

Pesticide residues are associated with many problems, Quandt says, from

overt physical symptoms such as tearing and diarrhea to neurological problems,

including memory loss.

 

"We are concerned particularly about children," she says. The study only looked at

houses with children under 7 years of age.