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Acute occupational pesticide-related illness in the US, 1998-1999

Background: Concern about the adverse public health and environmental effects of pesticide use is persistent. Recognizing the importance of surveillance for acute occupational pesticide-related illness, we report on surveillance for this condition across multiple states.

Methods: Survey data collected between 1998 and 1999 were obtained from the seven states that conduct acute occupational pesticide-related illness surveillance as part of the Sentinel Event Notification System for Occupational Risks (SENSOR) program. Data were collected by these state programs in a standardized manner and analyzed. Acute occupational pesticide-related illness incidence rates for those employed in agriculture and those employed in non-agricultural industries were also calculated.

Results: Between 1998 and 1999, a total of 1,009 individuals with acute occupational pesticide-related illness were identified by states participating in the SENSOR-pesticides program. The mean age was 36 years, and incidence rates peaked among 20-24 year-old workers. The overall incidence rate was 1.17 per 100,000 full time equivalents [FTEs]. The incidence rate among those employed in agriculture was higher (18.2/100,000 FTEs) compared to those employed in non-agricultural industries (0.53/100,000 FTEs). Most of the illnesses were of low severity (69.7%). Severity was moderate in 29.6% of the cases, and high in 4 cases (0.4%). Three fatalities were identified. Insecticides were responsible for 49% of all illnesses. Herbicides, fungicides, fumigants, and disinfectants were responsible for most of the remaining illnesses.

Conclusions: Surveillance is an important tool to assess acute pesticide-related illness, and to identify associated risk factors. Our findings suggest that these illnesses continue to be an important occupational health problem, especially in agriculture As such, greater efforts are needed to prevent acute occupational pesticide-related illness.

Calvert GM, Plate DK, Das R, Rosales R, Shafey O, Thomsen C, Male D, Beckman J, Arvizu E, Lackovic M. Acute occupational pesticide-related illness in the US, 1998-1999: surveillance findings from the SENSOR-pesticides program. Am J Ind Med 2004;45:14-23.

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