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What pesticides are the most dangerous? What industry sectors are the most dangerous with respect to poisoning?

When working with strong or harsh chemicals, it is necessary to take every precaution in order to prevent any injury or illness that could result from accidental exposure. While industries which have traditionally used chemical processes such as manufacturing and energy usually employ stringent protocols and safety procedures when it comes to handling hazardous materials, the agricultural sector has not seen the same benefits.

Distribution and number of pesticide-related by industry
Distribution and number of pesticide-related by industry, 1998-19991.
Distribution and number of pesticide-related illnesses
Distribution and number of pesticide-related illnesses among agricultural workers by occupation, 1998-19992.

Farming often employs unskilled labor in many different operational aspects, and this includes the application and management of pesticides. This lack of training is well illustrated by the large number of pesticide-related illnesses in the agricultural sector as opposed to other industries which also employ pesticides but which observe stricter controls. Even more alarming is the fact that the majority of those sickened by pesticides on a farm are out in the fields indicating that they have received none of the protections afforded to workers in other agricultural roles.

Distribution and number of pesticide-related illnesses
Distribution and number of pesticide-related illnesses by insecticide chemical class, 1998-19993.
Distribution and number of pesticide-related illnesses
Distribution and number of pesticide-related illnesses by pesticide functional class, 1998-19994.

Pesticides are used to control the insects, bacteria, diseases and other organisms which feed on and destroy crops. They can be either natural, such as the use of certain molds and fungi, or chemical in nature, with the latter usually having the greatest impact on worker health. The pesticide implicated most often in cases of human injury are organophosphorus insecticides. These chemicals act as neurotoxins to insects, and can easily build up in the human body to dangerous levels if farm workers are faced with repeated exposure5. The negative effects that pesticides can impart on humans range from skin irritation to respiratory disorders to brain dysfunction, along with a long list of other serious symptoms and system damage6.

In order to protect themselves from injury resulting from pesticide exposure, workers should strive to avoid areas where pesticides are being actively sprayed, as well as fields where spraying has recently occurred. Protective clothing and breathing masks can also be helpful, as they can prevent pesticides from being absorbed through the lungs and the skin. Immediately washing after working in a field that has been sprayed with pesticides can also mitigate some of the chemical effects.

1NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid200.htm
2NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid199.htm
3NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid202.htm
4NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid201.htm
5Plamer W, Bromley P, Brandenburg R, n.d.. Wildlife & Pesticides Peanuts. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://ipm.ncsu.edu/wildlife/peanuts_wildlife.html
6NIOSH, n.d.. Appendix 2: Signs and Symptoms for Several Pesticides. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/pesticides/pdfs/pest-cd2app2v2.pdf

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