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Female Farm Workers Face Increased Risk of Pesticide-Related Illness

Female farm workers are twice as likely to develop acute pesticide-related illnesses and injuries as their male counterparts, according to NIOSH researchers, even if they don’t directly handle pesticides.

"Gender Differences in Acute Pesticide-Related Illnesses and Injuries among Farmworkers in the United States, 1998-2007," found that farm workers employed in the U.S. continue to have a high risk for acute pesticide-related illness with rates twice as high among female farm workers compared to male farm workers. Most farm workers (86 percent ) do not directly handle pesticides and have little or no control over many of the contributing factors that lead to their acute pesticide-related illness, such as:

  • Exposure to off-target pesticide drift
  • Early re-entry into pesticide-treated areas, and
  • Being present in the treated area at the time of the pesticide application.

While female “non-handlers” appear to be at an increased risk, the total number of farm workers with acute pesticide-related illness and injury is far higher among males than females because approximately 84 percent of all U.S. farm workers are male.

"This paper illustrates that both direct exposure to pesticides and pesticide drift can increase risk of acute pesticide-related incidences," said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. "These findings underscore the importance of protecting agricultural workers from pesticide exposure, especially where they have little to no control over many of the contributing factors."

The NIOSH findings reinforce the need for heightened efforts to better protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure. Additional drift protections, improved compliance with pesticide regulations, and integrated pest management (IPM) can reduce risks to all farm workers, the researchers said.

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