Christmas Tree Farm Workers At High Risk For Pesticide Poisoning


(Beyond Pesticides, November 18, 2005)

Christmas tree farms use a variety of toxic pesticides, including Di-syston, a pesticide that has been laregely discontinued due to its toxicity. The people at the highest risk of exposure are the farm workers, the majority of whom are Latino immigrants. The two biggest producers of Christmas trees in the United States are Oregon and North Carolina. The sales in North Carolina alone total more than $100 million.

Farm workers on the tree farms are exposed to an array of dangerous pesticides that range from glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) to a variety of organophosphates. One of the most dangerous pesticides used is Di-Syston 15-G, an organophosphate that can cause convulsions, dizziness, sweating, labored breathing, nausea, and unconsciousness, among other things. Bayer CropSciences voluntarily discontinued Di-Syston last year, yet it is still legal to use on Fraser firs in North Carolina and coffee In Puerto Rico. The pesticide is a powder that is traditionally applied with a bucket and measuring spoon. This method was so dangerous that the EPA threatened to ban Di-Syston. North Carolina Christmas tree growers worked hard to develop a method that used a closed system to distribute the dust and the EPA dropped the threat.

Di-Syston use has been cut back somewhat in the past few years in response to public outcries against pesticides. However other pesticides have been used in its place including dimethoate, lindane and esfenvalerate. Lindane was banned by the EPA in 2002 and has been proven to be linked to a variety of dangerous side effects including: mental/motor impairment, excitation, vomiting, stomach upset, abdominal pain, central nervous system depression, and convulsions.

Dimethoate, another organophosphate, can cause numbness, tingling sensations, headaches, dizziness, tremors, nausea, abdominal cramps, sweating, blurred vision, difficulty breathing and slow heartbeat. While esfenvalerate, a pyrethroid, is linked to dizziness, burning, itching, blurred vision, tightness in the chest, convulsions, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and weakness or tremors.

Thomas Arcury, a Wake Forest public health professor, has completed a series of studies about the effects of pesticide exposure on Christmas tree farmers. The studies found traces of chemicals used on the trees in their homes, on the hands and toys of their children, and in urine samples from the families.