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Evaluating health risks from occupational exposure to pesticides and the regulatory response.


In this study, we used measurements of occupational exposures to pesticides in agriculture to evaluate health risks and analyzed how the federal regulatory program is addressing these risks. Dose estimates developed by the State of California from measured occupational exposures to 41 pesticides were compared to standard indices of acute toxicity (LD50) and chronic effects (reference dose). Lifetime cancer risks were estimated using cancer potencies. Estimated absorbed daily doses for mixers, loaders, and applicators of pesticides ranged from less than 0.0001% to 48% of the estimated human LD50 values, and doses for 10 of 40 pesticides exceeded 1% of the estimated human LD50 values. Estimated lifetime absorbed daily doses ranged from 0.1% to 114,000% of the reference doses developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and doses for 13 of 25 pesticides were above them. Lifetime cancer risks ranged from 1 per million to 1700 per million, and estimates for 12 of 13 pesticides were above 1 per million. Similar results were obtained for field workers and flaggers. For the pesticides examined, exposures pose greater risks of chronic effects than acute effects. Exposure reduction measures, including use of closed mixing systems and personal protective equipment, significantly reduced exposures. Proposed regulations rely primarily on requirements for personal protective equipment and use restrictions to protect workers. Chronic health risks are not considered in setting these requirements. Reviews of pesticides by the federal pesticide regulatory program have had little effect on occupational risks. Policy strategies that offer immediate protection for workers and that are not dependent on extensive review of individual pesticides should be pursued.

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