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Acute pesticide illnesses associated with off-target pesticide drift from agricultural applications: 11 States, 1998–2006

Background: Pesticides are widely used in agriculture, and off-target pesticide drift exposes
workers and the public to harmful chemicals.

Objective: We estimated the incidence of acute illnesses from pesticide drift from outdoor agricultural applications and characterized drift exposure and illnesses.

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: From 1998 through 2006, we identified 2,945 cases associated with agricultural pesticide
drift from 11 states. Our findings indicate that 47% were exposed at work, 92% experienced lowseverity
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 five agriculture-intensive counties in California. Soil applications with fumigants
were responsible for the largest percentage (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 nontarget areas.

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

Lee SJ, Mehler L, Beckman J, Diebolt-Brown B, Prado JB, Lackovic M, Waltz J, Mulay P, Schwartz A, Mitchell Y, Moraga-McHaley S, Gergely R, Calvert GM. Acute pesticide illnesses associated with off-target pesticide drift from agricultural applications: 11 States, 1998–2006. Environ Health Perspect 2011; 119;1162-1169.

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