Acute Pesticide Poisoning Among Agricultural Workers in the United States, 1998‚ 2005


Geoffrey M. Calvert, MD, MPH,1* Jennifer Karnik, MPH,1 Louise Mehler, PHD, MD,2 John Beckman, BS,3 Barbara Morrissey, MS,4 Jennifer Sievert, BA,5 Rosanna Barrett, MPH,6 Michelle Lackovic, MPH,7 Laura Mabee, BA,8 Abby Schwartz, MPH,9 Yvette Mitchell, MS,10 and Stephanie Moraga-McHaley, MS11

Background Approximately 75% of pesticide usage in the United States occurs in agriculture. As such, agricultural workers are at greater risk of pesticide exposure than non-agricultural workers. However, the magnitude, characteristics and trend of acute pesticide poisoning among agricultural workers are unknown.

Methods We identified acute pesticide poisoning cases in agricultural workers between the ages of 15 and 64 years that occurred from 1998 to 2005. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation and the SENSOR-Pesticides program provided the cases. Acute occupational pesticide poisoning incidence rates (IR) for those employed in agriculture were calculated, as were incidence rate ratios (IRR) among agricultural workers relative to non- agricultural workers.

Results Of the 3,271 cases included in the analysis, 2,334 (71%) were employed as farmworkers. The remaining cases were employed as processing/packing plant workers (12%), farmers (3%), and other miscellaneous agricultural workers (19%). The majority of cases had low severity illness (N 1/4 2,848, 87%), while 402 (12%) were of medium severity and 20 (0.6%) were of high severity. One case was fatal. Rates of illness among various agricultural worker categories were highly variable but all, except farmers, showed risk for agricultural workers greater than risk for non-agricultural workers by an order of magnitude or more. Also, the rate among female agricultural workers was almost twofold higher compared to males.

Conclusion The findings from this study suggest that acute pesticide poisoning in the agricultural industry continues to be an important problem. These findings reinforce the need for heightened efforts to better protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure. Am. J. Ind. Med. 51:883‚ 898, 2008. Published 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.‚Ć

KEY WORDS: pesticides; surveillance; poisoning; agriculture; farmworkers

1 Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations and Field Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cincinnati, Ohio

2 Department of Pesticide Regulation, California Environmental Protection Agency, Sacramento, California

3 Public Health Institute, Oakland, California

4 Office of Environmental Assessments,Washington State Department of Health, Olympia, Washington

5 Environmental and Injury Epidemiology and Toxicology Branch, Texas Department of State Health Services, Austin,Texas

6 Florida Department of Health,Tallahassee, Florida

7 Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, New Orleans, Louisiana

8 Office of Environmental Public Health, Oregon Department of Human Services, Portland, Oregon

9 Division of Environmental Health, Michigan Department of Community Health, Lansing, Michigan

10 Bureau of Occupational Health, New York State Department of Health,Troy, New York

11 New Mexico Occupational Health Registry, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico

The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or each author’s state agency.

*Correspondence to: Geoffrey M. Calvert, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 4676 Columbia Parkway, R-17, Cincinnati, OH 45226. E-mail: Accepted 23 June 2008

DOI 10.1002/ajim.20623. Published online in Wiley InterScience (

Published 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.† This article is a US Government work and, as such, is in the public domain in the United States of America.

Click here to read the full article.