Be aware of these seven ways pesticide residues can infiltrate your life—and the lives of your family
If you mix, transfer or spray pesticides then you and your family can be exposed over time to trace amounts of chemicals that can build up in your bodies and affect your health. In no particular order, here are seven ways to avoid long-term contamination from chemicals:
1 Wear rubber boots or Tyvek booties when working with chemicals. How long did the yellow stains stay on your leather work boots after you accidentally splattered them with a well-known soybean herbicide? Chemicals are easily absorbed by leather and transferred to the thin skin of your feet by sweaty socks—especially if you wear the same contaminated leather boots day after day.
2 Store gloves, goggles, face shields, protective overalls and boots outside the cab. Chemical residues on apparel can release gas and contaminate the air and surfaces inside the cab.
3 Use care if you snack or eat meals in the cab while spraying. Even with stringent use of protective apparel, there’s a good chance chemical residues are on the steering wheel and hydro handle. Residue can transfer from the controls to your hands, and then from your hands to your lips and mouth. Cigarettes can also transfer residues, and prying a dip of chew from between cheek and gum is risky because mouth tissue quickly absorbs any chemical residues on that finger.
4 If you can smell chemical in your cab, you’re inhaling that chemical to some degree. Activated charcoal air filters for tractor and sprayer cabs greatly reduce chemical vapors inside cabs. Michael Schmitz, owner of Clean Air Filters in Defiance, Iowa, says activated charcoal filters, if used in a well-sealed cab, are like sponges that absorb chemical vapor from air drawn into cabs by ventilation systems—up to a point.
"Once the ‘sponge’ of the activated charcoal in the filter has filled with chemical, it can’t absorb any more," Schmitz says. "It will filter dust and particles out of the air, but it no longer will filter out potentially harmful chemical vapors."
When chemical fumes become noticeable inside cabs, or when eyes or lips begin to burn due to exposure to chemical fumes, it’s time to replace activated charcoal cab filters, Schmitz adds.
5 Rinse water isn’t always just rinse water. Most sprayers have a clean water rinse tank. Some have two rinse tanks, a large tank for flushing the spray system and a smaller one for hand washing and decontamination.
Large system-rinsing tanks are prone to cross-contamination with small amounts of chemicals because they use the same spray pump to move water in and out of the storage tank as is used to spray the chemical solution through the field. Smaller hand-wash tanks are often contaminated by
pesticide-laden dust that accumulates around the fill cap or drain tube.
If you’re in need of clean water to wash hands or flush eyes after contamination, keep a couple of sealed milk jugs of known clean water in the cab.
6 According to a 2012 risk management study by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension Service, if forearm skin absorbs chemicals at a theoretical rate of 1.0, then forehead skin absorbs at 4.2, the ear canal at 5.4 and the groin area at 11.8.
7 Washing machines can expose family members to pesticides. It’s called transfer exposure and is noted by a 2006 study by the Cornell University Program on Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors. The study recommends washing clothes worn while applying pesticides separate from everything else.
Presoaking contaminated clothes, washing in the hottest water possible and using heavy-duty laundry detergents is the surest way to completely remove pesticide residues.
The study also recommends running washing machines empty through a complete cycle, with hot water and detergent, after washing clothes worn while spraying pesticides.
You can e-mail Dan Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.