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Respiratory health hazards in agriculture.

Schenker MB; Christiani D; Cormier Y; Dimich-Ward H; Doekes G; Dosman J; Douwes J; Dowling K; Enarson D; Green F; Heederik D; Husman K; Kennedy S; Kullman G; Lacasse Y; Lawson B; Malmberg P; May J; Mccurdy S; Merchant J; Myers J; Nieuwenhuijsen M; Olenchock S; Saiki C; Schwartz D; Seiber J; Thorne P; Wagner G; White N; Xu X; Chan-Yeung M
Am J Respir Crit Care Med 1998 Nov; 158(5):S1-S76
Respiratory diseases associated with agriculture were one of the first-recognized occupational hazards. As early as 1555, Olaus Magnus warned about the dangers of inhaling grain dusts, and the risk was again noted in 1700 by Ramazzini in his seminal work De Morbis Artificum. Yet, despite this early recognition of respiratory hazards in agriculture, it has only been in the 20th century that this problem has been carefully studied and documented. In general, the investigation of agricultural respiratory hazards has lagged behind the investigation of hazards in mining and other heavy industries. These agricultural hazards, however, are of serious concern. Because agriculture is so intimately tied to the land, it has generated many myths about the health of farmers. The long-standing "agrarian myth" was exemplified in Thomas Jefferson's declaration that "Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds". Unfortunately, the myth of the robust, reliably healthy farmer was in actuality a myth that does not correspond with the realities of agricultural life. Ample data, described in part in these pages, confirm the magnitude and severity of respiratory and other hazards in agriculture. In this review, we attempt to focus attention on the very real risk of serious respiratory disease posed by exposures in the agricultural environment. The ultimate goal of this effort, as with other reports on occupational respiratory diseases, is to communicate an understanding of respiratory disease in the affected populations and how to prevent it. Respiratory disease is today an important clinical problem for agricultural workers. Numerous studies, many cited in this document, have demonstrated a significantly increased risk of respiratory morbidity and mortality among farmers and farm workers. This risk obtains despite the lower prevalence of smoking among them, compared with the general population, thus further implicating occupational risk factors for respiratory disease. Agricultural respiratory disease is also an important public health problem; the affected population is a large one. In the United States, there are more than 5 million individuals involved in agricultural production; in many developing countries, over 70% of the work force may be involved in agriculture. Respiratory diseases due to agricultural exposures are, at least in theory, preventable. The clinical, social, and monetary benefits of conquering the array of respiratory disorders caused by farm work may be substantial.
Agricultural-industry; Agricultural-workers; Agriculture; Occupational-diseases; Occupational-hazards; Occupational-health; Inhalation-studies; Respiratory-irritants; Hazards; Inhalation-studies; Inorganic-chemicals; Organic-dusts; Microorganisms; Mycotoxins; Fungi; Fungicides; Endotoxins; Allergens; Allergies; Gases; Chemical-composition; Pesticides; Disinfectants
Publication Date
Document Type
Journal Article
Funding Amount
Funding Type
Cooperative Agreement; Agriculture
Fiscal Year
Identifying No.
Issue of Publication
NIOSH Division
Source Name
American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
Performing Organization
University of California - Davis
Page last reviewed: September 2, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division