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University of Iowa News Release

July 9, 2003

(Photo: Wayne Sanderson, Ph.D., UI associate professor of occupational and environmental health)

UI Researchers Look At Pesticide Use And Home Contamination

While research has been done on farmers' and farm workers' exposure to pesticides and other chemicals used in agriculture, few studies have looked at potential exposures among farm families due to home contamination.

University of Iowa College of Public Health researchers collaborated on one such study (published last fall in the Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health). The study investigated how Iowa farmers use pesticides and the difference in pesticide contamination between 25 farm homes and 25 non-farm homes in Keokuk County, Iowa.

Air, dust and surface samples collected a few days after pesticides had been applied to either corn or soybean crops, indicated that farm homes were more heavily contaminated with pesticides than the non-farm homes.

Most farmers reported on a questionnaire that they applied pesticides themselves, but only 59 percent of the group studied used tractors with enclosed cabs, and they typically wore little personal protective equipment, such as gloves, goggles or respirators. Most farmers changed out of their work clothes and shoes inside their homes, and when they changed outside or in the garage, they usually brought their clothes and shoes inside.

"Our results suggest that a farm operator's clothes and shoes should be removed outside the living area of the home and laundered separately from the rest of the family's clothing," said Wayne Sanderson, Ph.D., UI associate professor of occupational and environmental health and one of the study investigators. "Also, pesticides should be safely stored outside the home environment in enclosures inaccessible to children."

Farm children's exposure to agricultural chemicals is a key consideration, Sanderson noted. "Children take in more air and food relative to their body weight, have more contact with the floor, and put their hands in their mouths more often, all of which can mean higher exposure to environmental contaminants," he said.

Almost half of the study's 66 farm children (those ages 16 and younger) did farm chores, and six (9 percent) were potentially exposed to pesticides directly. In comparison, only two (4 percent) of the 52 non-farm children did farm chores, and none were directly exposed to pesticides.

The specific pesticides investigated were atrazine; metolachlor; acetochlor; alachlor; 2,4-D; glyphosate; and chlorpyrifos. Atrazine was the pesticide used most by farmers, although on almost every farm, more than one agricultural pesticide was applied. Non-agricultural pesticides were also used more in and around the farm homes than the non-farm homes.

The lead investigator for the study was Brian Curwin, a research industrial hygienist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The UI investigators are associated with the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health, which is funded by NIOSH.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5135 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

CONTACTS: Media: David Pedersen, 319-335-8032, Study investigator: Wayne Sanderson, 319-335-4207, Writer: Del Bonney