Acute Pesticide Illnesses Associated with Off-Target Pesticide Drift from Agricultural Applications, 11 States, 1998‚ 2006


Soo-Jeong Lee, Louise Mehler, John Beckman, Brienne Diebolt-Brown, Joanne Prado, Michelle Lackovic, Justin Waltz, Prakash Mulay, Abby Schwartz, Yvette Mitchell, Stephanie Moraga-McHaley, Rita Gergely, Geoffrey M. Calvert


Background: Pesticides are widely used in agriculture and off-target pesticide drift results in exposures to workers and the public.

Objective: Estimate the incidence of acute illnesses from pesticide drift from outdoor agricultural applications, and describe drift exposure and illness characteristics.

Methods: Data were obtained from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Sentinel Event Notification System for Occupational Risks-Pesticides Program and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Drift included off-target movement of pesticide spray, volatiles, and contaminated dust. Acute illness cases were characterized by demographics, pesticide and application variables, health effects, and contributing factors.

Results: During 1998‚ 2006, 2,945 cases associated with agricultural pesticide drift were identified from 11 states. Forty-seven percent had exposures at work, 92% experienced low severity illness, and 14% were children (<15 years). The annual incidence ranged from 1.39 to 5.32 per million persons over the 9-year period. The overall incidence (in million person-years) was 114.3 for agricultural workers, 0.79 for other workers, 1.56 for nonoccupational cases, and 42.2 for residents in 5 agriculture-intensive counties in California. Soil applications with fumigants were responsible for the largest proportion (45%) of cases. Aerial applications accounted for 24% of cases. Common factors contributing to drift cases included weather conditions, improper seal of the fumigation site, and applicator carelessness near non-target areas.

Conclusions: Agricultural workers and residents in agricultural regions were found to have the highest rate of pesticide poisoning from drift exposure, and soil fumigations were a major hazard causing large drift incidents. These findings highlight areas where interventions to reduce off-target drift could be focused.

Citation: Lee S-J, Mehler L, Beckman J, Diebolt-Brown B,
Prado J, Lackovic M, et al. 2011. Acute Pesticide Illnesses Associated with
Off-Target Pesticide Drift from Agricultural Applications — 11 States,
1998—2006. Environ Health Perspect :-. doi:10.1289/ehp.1002843

Received: 09 August 2010; Accepted: 24 May
2011; Online: 06 June 2011

Eur J
2011 Apr 20. [Epub ahead of print]