December 13, 2019

Researchers Examine Skin Exposure to Pesticides among Apple Growers

A recent study published by IRSST, a nonprofit scientific research organization in Québec, Canada, examined apple growers’ skin exposure to pesticides, perceptions of risk, use of protective clothing, and prevention practices. The apple growers in IRSST’s study wore long sleeves, long pants, and protective clothing in most of the exposure situations that were analyzed. However, researchers observed “considerable variety” in growers’ protective clothing and noted that they did not always use it as recommended to ensure the desired level of protection. A key finding of the study is that incidents involving unexpected, major exposures to pesticides are infrequent in this industry. Instead, researchers found that apple growers are subject to many “microexposures,” or exposures of low intensity and short duration, which do not impede work and thus are not particularly visible to workers. Microexposures are related to tasks that are frequently repeated by apple growers such as mixing and measuring pesticides.

“Microscopic exposure situations are the most frequent and occur often,” IRSST’s report reads. “The frequency of microexposure situations could be a factor in the limited perception of the significance of exposure through the skin.”

Researchers found that apple growers’ personal experiences with pesticides may also contribute to reduced perception of risks associated with skin exposure to pesticides. For example, one grower in the study mentioned that he didn’t think he had been exposed to pesticides because he saw no visible splattering when he was handling the products. Other growers explained that smell factors into how they perceive risks related to pesticides: if a pesticide smells bad, they feel it’s more dangerous.

IRSST hopes that in the absence of quantifiable biological exposure measurements, sharing information related to repeated and cumulative skin exposure with apple growers may help them become more aware of pesticide-related risks and facilitate the adoption of effective skin protective measures.

Further details are available in the IRSST study, which is freely available on the organization’s website.