New Research on Seasonal Farmworkers Highlights Issues of Safety, Sanitation

March 29, 2010

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – New research results from the Center for Worker Health (CWH) at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center indicate high exposure rates of farmworkers to pesticides during the agricultural season and a need for more education as well as enforcement of safety regulations.

The research results, which deal with issues of farm safety, sanitation and pesticides, are being released at the onset of the state’s agricultural season to prompt awareness and action. The results were shared at a recent meeting of the Farmworker Advocacy Network (FAN). Thomas A. Arcury, Ph.D., director of the CWH and lead investigator of the research, presented two policy briefs based on new research published in the Journal of Agromedicine (“Migrant Farmworker Field and Camp Safety and Sanitation in Eastern North Carolina”) and the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (“Seasonal Variation in the Measurement of Urinary Pesticide Metabolites among Latino Farmworkers in Eastern North Carolina”).

FAN is a network of organizations that advocates for improved living and working conditions of migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families in North Carolina.

“Our study is among the first to document pesticide exposure among North Carolina’s migrant and seasonal farmworkers,” Arcury said.  “This research is important because we were able to collect information on pesticide exposure and the work environment from a large group of farmworkers four times across an agricultural season.  The large amount of information that we collected allows us to describe how much exposure the farmworker population experiences in a single season, and how levels of pesticide exposure change during the season.”

The policy briefs Arcury shared outlined the following findings:

  • Analysis of urine samples from 289 farmworkers for several different insecticides and herbicides showed high rates of exposure across an  agricultural season, suggesting a need for reduced exposure with training, reduced use of pesticides, greater enforcement of current safety regulations, and creation of new regulations to document pesticide use.
  • About 20 percent of the migrant farmworkers did not receive pesticide safety training at any time during the agricultural season and of those who received it, one-third didn’t understand the information.
  • About 20 percent of migrant farmworkers reported lacking individual cups for drinking water. About one-half reported having no soap available for hand washing and 60 percent reported having no disposable towels for hand washing.
  • About 20 percent of migrant workers lived in camps with more than eight workers for each working showerhead, and 20 percent lived in camps with more than 30 workers for each laundry washtub or washing machine.

“Many of the regulations in place to protect farmworkers are not being followed,” Arcury said. “Changes are needed to ensure that existing regulations are followed. We need new programs to monitor the amount of pesticide exposure farmworkers are experiencing.  People shouldn’t have to get sick just to make a living.”

The CWH was established to provide a connecting point for a variety of research focused on all aspects of the work-health relationship. The center brings together investigators, health care providers, community members and business leaders interested in protecting and promoting worker health and quality of life, as well as creating workplace solutions that are beneficial for employers, workers and their families.

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Mark Wright:, 336-713-4587