Pesticide Exposure Monitoring Among North Carolina Farmworkers
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i EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Client Toxic Free NC is a 501(c)3 non-profit. Toxic Free NC works specifically on pesticide pollution, and although it focuses on North Carolina, it looks at pesticide use around the world. Toxic Free NC advocates for pesticide alternatives and for proper use of pesticides to avoid environmental contamination and exposure. Based on the conclusions of the Master’s Project, Toxic Free NC may advocate for legislation at the state level. Policy Question Should North Carolina adopt a cholinesterase-monitoring program to monitor and prevent pesticide exposure among farmworkers and their families? Overview Pesticide exposure among farmworkers and their families may present a serious problem in the State of North Carolina. Currently, California and Washington State stand alone in their use of cholinesterase monitoring to monitor pesticide exposure. These states test pesticide handlers. This project assesses the utility of such a program in North Carolina and evaluates other policy options for reducing pesticide exposure among the state’s farmworker population. Problem Summary Organophosphate pesticides are not only widely used but are also responsible for a number of cases of exposure. Exposure to organophosphate pesticides can result in depressed acetylcholinesterase (cholinesterase) levels. Cholinesterase is an enzyme necessary for proper nerve functioning. Depressed cholinesterase levels are considered a sign of over-exposure to pesticides and are also considered a problem in and of themselves. Although chronic pesticide exposure can cause severe health problems, including cancer, birth defects, neurological problems, and other concerns, little is known about the level of chronic pesticide exposure in one of the most exposed groups. Pesticide handlers, non-handler farmworkers, and their families are exposed to pesticides on a routine basis. However, the exact level of this exposure, or even reliable estimates of such exposure, is unknown. The problem may be particularly severe among the children of farmworkers, who may be exposed both in residue brought home by the farmworker and by being in contact with the crops themselves. The Worker Protection Standard, a federal law, has not been significantly modified since 1992. It does not include any provisions or guidance for children under the age of 12, despite the fact that younger children may accompany their parents in farmwork. The cholinesterase monitoring programs that do exist do not collect data that would indicate the exposure among children. Additionally, since they measure cholinesterase levels only for those pesticide handlers who have worked with pesticides for 30 or more hours in the past 30 days, their data cannot be used to estimate a dose-response relationship of pesticide exposure and cholinesterase depression. Moreover, the State of North Carolina does not have spare funding in the current economic and political climate. Any actions taken by the client, at least for the immediate future, will need to rely on alternate sources of funding. Goals Used to Evaluate Options The policy options outlined below will be evaluated based on their ability to meet each of these four goals. • Collect data on the size and scope of the problem. • Create an early intervention system. • Improve compliance with Worker Protection Standard. • Reduce pesticide exposure among pesticide handlers, farmworkers, and their families. Recommendation 1. Measure pesticide exposure among pesticide handlers, farmworkers, and non- handler/farmworker family members by use of a survey conducted in cooperation with an academic institution. Recommendations Contingent on Supportive Data from Recommendation 1 2. Modify the Worker Protection Standard. 3. Institute an education program for state government agency (Health and Human Services and Agriculture) personnel as well as medical practitioners serving the agricultural community. 4. Implement a cholinesterase-monitoring program. 5. Hire more compliance inspectors and increase the number of compliance visits. Conclusion Particularly in North Carolina, where the farmworker population is reasonably large and agriculture is an important industry, it is vital that the size and scope of any pesticide exposure issue be scientifically documented. Once the size and scope is established, action can be taken to reduce pesticide exposure as needed.
DepartmentThe Sanford School of Public Policy
agricultural health and safety
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Rights for Collection: Sanford School Master of Public Policy (MPP) Program Master’s Projects