(Beyond Pesticides, April 6, 2009) Despite an earlier report showing a decrease in pesticide use in the state, pesticide-related illnesses and injuries in California have doubled in 2007 from 2006, according to new data from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR). The 2007 pesticide exposure data also shows that twice as many illnesses investigated are associated with non-agricultural pesticide use than are reported for agricultural purposes. A total of 45 percent of the illnesses investigated are associated with pesticide exposure to structural, sanitation and home garden pesticide use, while 22 percent are associated with agricultural pesticide use. The 2007 illness and incident data show that 1,479 illnesses were investigated and 66 percent, or 982 cases, were linked to pesticide exposure. For 157 cases, information was unavailable for investigation follow-up, yet, should not necessarily be discounted.
The major findings of the data show that:
ï‚§ The majority of pesticide illnesses are associated with chlorpyrifos, malathion, chlorine, and cypermethrin;
ï‚§ The largest number of pesticide illnesses were from pesticide drift;
ï‚§ For occupational cases, the most common activity during pesticide exposure were for applicators and fieldworkers;
ï‚§ For non-occupational cases, the most common activity during exposure were being in an indoor environment and for applicators;
ï‚§ For incident setting, the largest number of cases were for single-family homes;
ï‚§ For agricultural cases, the majority were for individuals between the ages of 20 and 40 years;
ï‚§ For non-agricultural cases, the majority were for individuals between the ages of 20 to 60 years and 0 to 9 years; and,
ï‚§ For reported school pesticide cases, 68 percent were related to antimicrobial pesticide exposure.
The data comes from several sources and includes both occupational, such as agricultural and structural use, and home-use incidents of pesticide-related illnesses and injuries. DPR works with other state and local entities in hopes to capture the majority of significant illness and injury incidents associated with pesticide use. For example, in 2007, 538 of the cases were reported through the California Poison Control System (CPCS), which previously offered this service through a federally funded pilot program that expired in 2002. CPCS resumed its reporting of pesticide illnesses in October 2006 under a new contract funded by DPR.
DPR reports that in 2007, the number of illnesses and injuries investigated returned to a level typical of recent years after a dip in 2006. In 2006, only 680 illnesses were identified, the lowest number since pesticide illness records were computerized in 1982. In 2005 and 2004, more than 1,300 and 1,200 cases were identified, respectively. Based on information available at the time of evaluation, DPR concludes that 407, or 41 percent, of the 982 pesticide-associated cases might have been avoided if pesticide users had strictly followed safety procedures on the pesticide labels and California regulations. Interestingly, in a report released three months ago, DPR data shows that pesticide use in the state declined in 2007 to 172 million pounds statewide.
The counties with the greatest number of pesticide exposure cases were Monterey, Los Angeles, Tulare, San Diego, Kern and Frenso, respectively. Nonetheless, the largest quantity of pesticides in the state are applied in Fresno County. Agricultural Commissioners in Tulare and Kern Counties, also in the top five counties that apply the greatest amount of pesticides, have adopted pesticide buffer zone rules that prohibits aerial applications of restricted use pesticides within one-quarter mile of schools in session or due to be in session within 24 hours, occupied farm labor camps and residential areas.
DPR’s Pesticide Illness Surveillance Program, run by the Worker Health and Safety Branch, does not produce a “census” of pesticide injuries, since there is no way to document illnesses that go unreported. Worker Health and Safety Branch studies have shown that pesticide-related injuries at work, or cases related to agricultural activities, are more likely to be reported than pesticide illnesses at home. Pesticide illness studies, supported by hospital records, also show that DPR’s program is effective at detecting any incident involving multiple victims. Although physicians are required by law to report any suspected pesticide illness, compliance is low. DPR has developed other sources of illness data, and County Agricultural Commissioners investigate every report they receive from physicians, DPR or other sources. DPR’s Worker Health and Safety Branch then reviews county investigations and determine whether cases are pesticide-related.
For the first time, the complete California Pesticide Illness Query, or CalPIQ, with data from 1992 to 2007 is available on-line. CalPIQ enables users to analyze the data with individual, user-defined queries based on several variables, including year of incident; agricultural or non-agricultural use; county of occurrence; and pesticide by category, active ingredient or intended use.
Using previous data collected from California and other state surveillance programs, a 2008 study by a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) researcher finds the pesticide poisoning incidence rate among U.S. agricultural workers is thirty-nine times higher than the incidence rate found in all other industries combined.