Health outcomes in adolescent minority farmworkers

Project Title: Health outcomes in adolescent minority farmworkers.

Principal Investigator: McCauly L, Anger KW Bryan C.

Award Number: 1 R01 CCR014362 (Final Summary)


Children working in agriculture are exposed to pesticide spray, drift, and residues in the soil and on foliage, however little scientific evidence is available to determine acceptable levels of pesticide exposure to children. Pesticides are thought to pose a considerably higher risk to children than to adults however little is known about the extent or magnitude of health problems related to occupational exposure to pesticides in children. The migrant population, including adolescent workers, has not been frequently studied in the area of agricultural safety and health. Problems that contribute to lack of access to this population include such factors as workers’ mobility, undocumented laborers, and rural location, language barriers and the seasonal nature of the work. This study was designed to assess neurobehavioral function in Hispanic adolescents exposed to agricultural pesticides, biomarkers of pesticide exposure in this adolescent population and factors contributing to exposure risk including knowledge of pesticides and associated health hazards, work characteristics and practices, and cultural and/or developmental factors that contribute to risk. This was an interdisciplinary community-based research project in which the Oregon Health Sciences University Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology (CROET) joined with the Oregon Migrant Education Program to develop and implement culturally appropriate research methods to study the migrant minority population. A cross-sectional study of 102 migrant Hispanic adolescents, ages 13-18, engaged in agriculture and a comparison group of 51 Hispanic adolescents who were not working in agriculture was conducted. Questionnaires were administered by Spanish-speaking interviewers to solicit information on exposure to agricultural pesticides, work practices and use of protection, and economic, cultural, and other background factors associated with the choice of agricultural work. Pre- and post-season health assessments of cholinesterase activity and neurobehavioral function were conducted. Study results indicate that migrant adolescents are engaged in a variety of agricultural activities, including mixing or applying pesticides. Few youth report the use of protective clothing or equipment, yet most report beliefs about the health hazards associated with pesticide exposure. Laundry practices and after work hygiene practices are highly variable. Adolescents differ in their knowledge of pesticide hazards with primary language the major determinant for differences in knowledge scores. No differences were found between agricultural youth and non-agricultural youth on biomarkers of pesticide exposure. Differences were found in neurobehavioral performance, but there is no conclusive evidence that these differences are related to pesticide exposure.

Page last reviewed: August 30, 2001