Date: December 29, 1997
ANNUAL REPORT ON PESTICIDE ILLNESSES RELEASED
SACRAMENTO --Cal/EPA's Department of Pesticide Regulation today released
its annual pesticide illness report.
"DPR uses the information gathered in its illness investigations to
evaluate its regulatory program and to help fine-tune pesticide safety
rules," said DPR Director James W. Wells. "California is the only state in
the nation with an effective program to report and investigate
pesticide-related illnesses, and the data we have gathered has helped make
our worker protection program the model for the rest of the country."
All reported pesticide illnesses in the state are investigated, and
DPR prepares an annual report on the results. (DPR scientists are still
evaluating the 1996 illness reports.)
There were 1,593 illnesses in 1995 that had a potential or
confirmed link to pesticide use. Non-agricultural pesticide use accounted
for 937 cases and 656 cases occurred in 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.)
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. In 1995, there were 1,117 cases
classified as "definitely" or "probably" related to pesticide exposure, and
another 476 where the circumstances suggested a "possible" relationship to
pesticide exposure. There were an additional remaining 808 cases reported
to the Department classified as unlikely to be related or as unrelated to
pesticide exposure, based on the results of investigations.
As an example of changes resulting from illness investigations,
Wells cited a series of illnesses among pet groomers that led DPR to
examine the use of pesticides in this occupation. DPR specialists visited
several dozen establishments and found that groomers received little if any
safety training, and that typically they immerse their hands in pesticide
solutions without wearing gloves. In response, DPR developed a fact sheet
on pesticide safety for pet groomers and another for their customers.
(Copies of the fact sheets are available through the agricultural
commissioner's offices in each county and from DPR's Web site
Because product labels do not require gloves to be worn, DPR is
also discussing the problem with the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.
U.S. EPA is the only agency with authority to require that pesticide labels
be changed to require that groomers wear gloves and use other safety
An investigation of problems that began when a homeowner--trying to
get rid of termites--treated his crawl space with copper naphthenate. This
triggered a DPR review of the history of complaints related to this type of
usage. "After we told U.S. EPA of our concerns, the agency agreed that
indoor use of these chemicals was inappropriate," said Wells. The federal
agency has taken the lead in negotiating label changes that will prohibit
indoor use of both zinc and copper naphthenate.
In another cooperative effort with U.S. EPA, DPR reviewed illnesses
attributed to cholinesterase inhibitors. (This class of pesticides works
by inhibiting a body enzyme necessary for proper nerve function.)
"Blood tests are done in workers who may have been overexposed to
cholinesterase inhibitors, but we often couldn't interpret the results
because of differences in the ways laboratories reported them," said Wells.
"We surveyed the laboratories and found variations in sample handling and
analysis procedures and in reporting methods."
As a result, DPR is changing state regulations to require reporting
the results of cholinesterase tests in standard units.
For a copy of the report and a brochure describing the illness
surveillance program, contact DPR's Worker Health and Safety Branch, 1020 N
Street, Room 200, Sacramento 95814, phone (916) 445-4222. The report can
also be downloaded (after January 5, 1998) from the publications section of
DPR's Web site <www.cdpr.ca.gov>.
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