SACRAMENTO (December 12, 1996)--There were 1,332 illnesses in 1994 that had
a potential or confirmed link to pesticide use, Cal/EPA's Department of
Pesticide Regulation reported today.
All reported pesticide illnesses in the state are investigated, and DPR
prepares an annual report on the results. (DPR scientists are still
evaluating the 1995 illness reports.)
Of the 1,332 illnesses in 1994, 448 involved agricultural use of
pesticides. The remaining 884 occurred in non-agricultural settings. (The
term "pesticide" is an umbrella term for substances that kill or control
pests. Therefore, pesticides include insecticides, herbicides,
rodenticides, disinfectants, and sanitizers.)
Illnesses among agricultural field workers declined in the late 1980s, and
this trend continues. From 1982 to 1988, the average number of field worker
illnesses was 280 a year. From 1989 through 1994, the annual average was
149. (In 1994, there were 109 field worker illnesses.)
The decline followed regulatory action by DPR against three pesticides
which had accounted for a disproportionate share of field worker illnesses.
The insecticide phosalone was taken off the U.S. market by its manufacturer
after DPR sharply limited its use in California. Also in the late 1980s,
after a series of field worker illnesses caused by exposure to methomyl and
propargite, DPR mandated longer waiting periods between pesticide
application and when workers could reenter treated fields.
The 1,332 illnesses that occurred in 1994 included 514 cases of eye or skin
irritation. The other 818 involved symptoms of systemic illnesses.
("Systemic" symptoms include respiratory problems caused by inhaling
vapors, and symptoms such as headache or nausea that strike a part of the
body not directly exposed to the pesticide.) Overexposure to pesticides
caused three deaths. They included two elderly men who swallowed fatal
doses of pesticides and one man who broke into his apartment while the
building was being fumigated.
Most of the cases reported--1,211 of the 1,332--occurred while people were
at work. California law requires that doctors report all illnesses that
they suspect of being caused by pesticide exposure, whether work-related or
not. However, because most physician reports come through the workers'
compensation system, most reported illnesses are occupational. As a result,
pesticide illnesses outside the workplace are probably under-reported.
Nonetheless, the variety of cases reported alerts DPR to pesticide problems
and it unlikely that significant hazards escape detection.
Under state law, county agricultural commissioners are the local
enforcement agents for pesticide laws and regulations. They investigate all
pesticide-related illnesses or injuries reported in their counties, whether
they occur in agricultural or non-agricultural settings. DPR specialists
analyze the results of the illness investigations to decide if pesticide
exposure caused the illnesses.
The U.S. General Accounting Office called the DPR illness surveillance
program the nation's "most effective and well-established monitoring
system." No other state has a similar reporting and investigative program.
It helps DPR evaluate the effectiveness of its pesticide and worker safety
programs. DPR uses the information gathered in the illness investigations
to determine if it should make changes in how a pesticide is used to
provide greater protection from overexposure.
DPR is working with the State Department of Industrial Relations and
Cal/EPA's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to improve
illness reporting by physicians and to train physicians on how to better
recognize pesticide illnesses.
For a copy of the 55-page report, or the separate 10-page overview, contact
DPR's Worker Health and Safety Branch, 1020 N Street, Room 200, Sacramento
95814, phone (916) 445-4222. The report and overview can also be downloaded
from the publications section of DPR's Internet Web page (www.cdpr.ca.gov).