Fruit thinners face elevated pesticide risk

SEATTLE, Washington, February 9, 2004 (ENS): A new study finds agricultural workers who perform thinning - removing young buds from orchard trees to increase the size of the remaining fruit - face a greater likelihood of pesticide exposure than other farm workers.

The researchers found that workers who thinned orchards were more likely to have detectable levels of pesticides in their house and vehicle dust as compared to agricultural workers who did not perform orchard thinning.

The study also found that children of thinners were more likely to have detectable levels of pesticide metabolites in their urine than children of non-thinners.

These findings support the theory that agricultural workers may track pesticides home on their clothing and shoes.

"Most previous pesticide exposure research on farm workers has focused on pesticide handlers, such as pesticide mixers, loaders and sprayers, but this study suggests that more research is needed regarding exposure patterns among other types of farm workers as well," said Dr. Gloria Coronado, lead author of the study and a scientist in Fred Hutchinson's Cancer Prevention Program in Seattle.

Orchard thinners are thought to be at higher risk for pesticide exposure because thinning usually takes place in the spring, when crops are being sprayed to prevent pests.

Such workers also have substantial physical contact with fruits, leaves, twigs and branches that may contain pesticide residues.

In addition, unlike pesticide handlers, thinners are not required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to use protective equipment or undergo safety training.

The project, conducted in Eastern Washington's Lower Yakima Valley, involved 571 farm workers in 24 communities and labor camps who were interviewed about their pesticide exposure patterns.

It revealed some 20 percent more thinners had pesticide residue in their home and vehicle dust as compared to non-thinners.

The researchers also found that the presence of a dimethyl urinary pesticide metabolite called DMTP was present in children of thinners 10 percent more than in children of non-thinners.

"Unfortunately, we do not know the extent to which ongoing, low level exposure to pesticides leads to adverse health consequences," said project leader Dr. Beti Thompson of Fred Hutchinson's Public Health Sciences Division. "However, knowing exposure pathways helps us plan interventions to reduce exposure risk, which is particularly important for young children."

The study appears in the February issue of the journal "Environmental Health Perspectives," a publication of the National Institutes of Health.

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