Safety and Health

February 23, 2009 06:47 AM

All Washed Up

That pair of jeans you wore while filling the sprayer may not look dangerous. But if they contain a pesticide residue, they could be
hazardous to you and your family.

During pesticide application, clothing can pick up pesticide residues through spills and drift. Tossing the garment into the washer or laundry basket with other clothes can transfer the residue to those garments.

Data from the Agricultural Health Study shows 14 out of every 100 people who apply pesticides report they have had an event when they were exposed to high levels during their working lifetimes. The study was conducted in Iowa by the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Iowa and in North Carolina by the Battelle Centers for Public Health Research and Evaluation. The study is directed by the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Those who report that they have had an event often delay in changing their clothing or washing following exposure. Among other confessions, those with high levels of exposure say they frequently wash their pesticide-contaminated clothing with the family wash. Washing pesticide-contaminated hands inside the home, storing pesticides within the home and applying pesticides within 50 yards of the well are other practices that should be avoided.

Roger Gold, Texas A&M entomologist, conducted studies while on staff at the University of Nebraska on how best to handle contaminated clothing. "One thing that stood out was it was best to use high-phosphate detergents in hot water. Liquid detergents were better than granular," Gold says.

Here are some additional tips compiled from Extension safety specialists that will help when washing laundry that has been exposed to pesticides:

  • Launder clothing daily when applying pesticide daily.
  • Handle all contaminated clothing with gloves.
  • Discard clothing containing concentrated pesticides.
  • Consider all clothing worn while handling or applying concentrated or diluted pesticides to be contaminated.
  • Prerinse clothing by spraying or hosing outdoors, presoaking in a suitable container or agitating in an automatic washing machine. Pretreat clothes that have a soil-repellent finish.
  • Wash separately from family laundry. Discard clothing if thoroughly saturated with highly toxic pesticide.
  • Use warm or hot water during the wash cycle and at least two cold-water rinses. Use the longest wash cycle, at least 10 to 12 minutes.
  • Use heavy-duty laundry detergent.
  • Wash only a few contaminated garments at a time.
  • Rewash contaminated clothing two or three times if necessary. Multiple launderings remove more of the pesticide from clothing.
  • Clean the washing machine thoroughly after laundering contaminated clothing by running the machine empty through a complete cycle with hot water and detergent.
  • Line dry to avoid contaminating the automatic dryer.
  • Consider keeping a separate machine for work clothes that might be exposed to pesticides.
  •  Have disposable clothes available to wear whenever possible to limit clothing contamination.

Time to Clean House

A study of Iowa farm homes indicates pesticide residues are getting into the house and staying.

The results suggest farm families should take extra care in their routine cleaning efforts, says Brian Curwin, who conducted the study for the Agricultural Health Study (see above).

Dust samples were taken on two occasions from 25 farm homes and 25 nonfarm homes in two counties. Sites included carpets and hard surfaces in the kitchen, entranceways, laundry area, living room, children's playroom and children's bedroom.

"We found the farm home had higher amounts of pesticide residues than nonfarm," Curwin says.

On farms where atrazine and meta-chlor had been applied to crops, higher amounts of these pesticides were found in rooms where dirt was tracked in or work clothes were left after the chemical was applied.

Glyphosate and 2,4-D were found in dust samples in most farm and nonfarm homes. Chlorpyrifos, an insecticide that has not been registered since 2000, was also found in dust samples in farm and nonfarm homes.

To reduce pesticide exposure, remove work clothes in an area away from the rest of the house and wash separately. Remove work shoes and boots before entering the house. Vacuum carpets and clean floors on a regular basis. Close windows and doors and keep children and pets inside when pesticides are being applied. Follow pesticide labels to know when it is safe to enter treated areas.

Moving Target

Farm machinery and the motoring public can be a dangerous combination. Population growth and increases in development across the country are leading to changes in traffic and driving behavior that complicates the issue.

A study by North Carolina State University sociologist Michael Schulman shows there are five factors that may increase the odds of a farm vehicle crash on a public road. Size matters; larger pieces of farm equipment are more likely to create traffic problems. Other factors may include: young farm vehicle drivers; using nonfamily hired help; having a history of farm injuries; and the use of non-English-speaking farm vehicle drivers.

The good news is that crashes involving farm implements are not that frequent; they make up less than 1% of the accidents in North Carolina. But crashes on a public road involving farm equipment are five times more likely to result in a fatality than other types of motor vehicle accidents.

In Mississippi, ag engineer Herb Willcutt says that about 125 collisions occur each year involving motorists and farm machinery. "Between 1% and 2% of these result in deaths to the operator of the farm machinery," Willcutt says.

"Because of the difference in weight between the two pieces, motorists in passenger vehicles fare worse in these collisions, with 65% causing property damage alone and 35% causing injury and property damage," he adds.

Large heavy and wide can describe most pieces of farm machinery. Therefore, it's not unusual for operators to swing into oncoming lanes to avoid signposts, mailboxes and bridge railings. "Operators often must move left before making a right turn. Because of the size of the equipment, the operator may not be able to see motorists approaching from behind," Willcutt says.

Fuel Thefts Rise

Gas and diesel prices may have slacked off slightly, but the value of the product contained in on-farm fuel tanks makes them a target for theft, says Herb Willcutt, Mississippi State University ag engineer.

He recommends farmers take the following steps to safeguard fuel:

  • Lock all fuel pumps in the "off" position, and turn electrical pumps off at the point of electrical supply.
  • Secure the nozzle and fill ports on above-ground tanks to prevent gravity flow or siphoning. Use locking fuel caps on all tanks.
  • Put a security fence around supply tanks and park vehicles and machinery in secure, well-lit areas. Put vehicles into a closed, locked garage.
  • Keep a log of fuel purchased and used, and balance the figures monthly.


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