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Pesticide exposure. (Risk Reporter).

Exposure to agricultural pesticides is a well-known contributing factor to a number of chronic ailments including leukemia and other cancers; respiratory illness; and damage to the central nervous system, organs and possibly the endocrine system. This exposure is the subject of a joint study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Stanford University. The study examines the ill effects that pesticides have on the infants and young children from households in California's agricultural areas.

California is the largest agricultural producer in the country. In 2000, it used over 188 million pounds of pesticides to combat aphids and other potentially devastating insects. Although federal and state pesticide regulations are implemented to ensure public safety, the EPA/Stanford study suggests that regulations may be overlooking the most susceptible members of the population--children.

Current pesticide regulation focuses on standards that use adult white males as the control group, but it has now recognized that the most vulnerable populations--children and pregnant women--should set regulatory standards. Studies show that children are far more susceptible to low concentrations of the inherently toxic chemicals contained in pesticides because of their developing organs, high metabolism and high skin-surface-area-to-bodyweight ratio. Behavioral tendencies, such as a child's predisposition to put objects into his or her mouth and crawl on floors that are often rampant with pesticide residue, also magnify exposure. These factors have heightened consequence in low-income and immigrant households that are often located near sites where agrochemicals are used.

The EPA/Stanford study will examine exposure through a monitoring program administered by Stanford professor Dr. James Leckie. Leckie and his research team have implemented a video surveillance system to quantify children's real-life exposure to pesticide residue by recording children in their homes for up to eight hours at a time. "By applying software we have developed, we quantify each child's dermal contact behavior on a second-by-second basis," Leckie says. "This information allows us to estimate the amount of chemicals that are transferred to their skin or their mouth." Leckie's findings from an earlier study monitoring eighty children revealed that the average child may have as many as sixty hand-to-mouth contacts with pesticide-contaminated surfaces per hour--or one every minute.

"Our goal is to develop a mathematical model that will allow researchers to quantify cumulative and aggregate exposure to various agricultural pesticides over weeks, months and years--and across all nondietary routes: dermal, inhalation and ingestion," says Leckie.

As research progresses, agricultural employers may see related pesticide liability. Currently, liability most often comes from employers that fail to meet regulatory standards such as the Workers Protection Standard (WPS), which was initiated by the EPA in 1994 to ensure the safety of workers exposed to pesticides. The WPS mandates pesticide safety training, proper decontamination procedures, the use of personal protective equipment, restricted-entry intervals to treated areas and emergency assistance.

Specifically, the WPS requires employers to inform farm workers--in their native languages if necessary--of the dangers associated with the pesticides being used and provide a dedicated "pesticide-free place" for workers to store clean belongings and wash off after the workday.

Violations of these standards have resulted in fines, license suspension and imprisonment. In 1997, a Hawaii ginger root farm owner, Kap Dong Kim, directed his worker, Valentin Solis, to apply Nemacu (a pesticide banned by the Federal Pesticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act) to his crop using a defective pump tank. The resulting exposure put Solis in intensive care for two days with serious illness and temporary blindness. Kim then concealed the nature of the pesticide application, which led to investigations by the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. In 2000, a successful Department of Justice prosecution handed Kim a four-month prison sentence, a $5,000 fine and ordered $6,113 to be paid in restitution.

In 1998, two south Texas families also received payment for damage they suffered during their tenure working at the James C. Ellis Estate in Owensboro, Kentucky. When workers became ill after harvesting a broccoli field that had been treated with pesticides, they filed suit and later settled for $47,350.

Employers are also responsible for paying workers for the decontamination time needed at the end of the day. Although outside of the agricultural industry, in 2002, Salisbury, Maryland-based Perdue Farms Inc. settled for $10 million with sixty thousand chicken processors who had filed a private class-action lawsuit because they were not paid for time spent changing into safety gear and cleaning up. (Perdue also settled with the Labor Department for an additional $10 million.) Agricultural growers could face similar litigation.

If research links the illnesses of farm-workers' children to the management of pesticide use, this liability could climb higher. The EPA has required hundreds of additional studies on pesticides over the past year to better understand their effects on children. Now, for the first time, it has developed new tests (such as those used by Leckie) and risk assessment methods to target the factors unique to infants and children. But Leckie notes the relative immaturity of exposure analysis. "We still have a lot to learn at the molecular and behavioral level," he says. "Especially when it comes to children."
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Title Annotation:exposure monitoring program
Author:Wade, Jared
Publication:Risk Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2002
Previous Article:Seeking a cure for medical errors liability. (Risk Reporter).
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