Exposure to pesticides in schools produces illnesses among school employees and students

07/21/05

The rate of new illnesses associated with pesticide exposure at schools increased significantly in children from 1998 to 2002, according to an article in the July 27 issue of JAMA.

"Exposure to pesticides in the school environment is a health risk facing children and school employees," background information in the article states. Pesticides continue to be used both on and around school property, with some schools at risk of pesticide exposure from neighboring farms. Currently, no specific federal requirements on limiting pesticide exposures at schools exist. In the U.S. today, pesticide poisoning is often underdiagnosed.

Walter A. Alarcon, M.D., from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cincinnati, and colleagues examined 1998 2002 data from 2,593 people with acute pesticide-related illnesses associated with school exposure. Information was collected from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's Sentinel Event Notification System for Occupational Risks pesticides program (SENSOR) pesticides program, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR), and the Toxic Exposure Surveillance System (TESS). Cases were included if illness developed after exposure to pesticide and illness was consistent with known toxicology of the pesticide.

The overall annual rates of new cases for 1998 2002 was 7.4 cases per million children, and was 27.3 cases per million school employee (adult) full-time equivalents. New case rates among children increased significantly from 1998 to 2002. Three cases (.1 percent) of high severity were found, 275 cases (11 percent) of moderate severity, and 2,315 cases (89 percent) of low severity were found. The majority of illnesses reported were associated with insecticides (n = 895, 35 percent), disinfectants (n = 830, 32 percent), repellents (n = 335, 13 percent), or herbicides (n = 279, 11 percent). Of 406 cases with detailed source information, 281 (69 percent) were associated with pesticides used at schools and 125 (31 percent) were associated with pesticide drift from farmland.

"These findings indicate that pesticide exposures at schools continue to produce acute illnesses among school employees and students in the United States, albeit mainly of low severity and with relatively low incidence rates," the authors write. "To prevent pesticide-related illnesses at schools, implementation of integrated pest management programs in schools, practices to reduce pesticide drift, and adoption of pesticide spray buffer zones around schools are recommended."

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