Don’t Take Chances When Spraying Pesticides/Herbicides

— Written By and last updated by JoAnne Gryder

With the recent nice weather and drier conditions, many farmers were finally able to spray pastures, hayfields and winter crops for undesirable weeds. With all the spring chores stacking up, I feel it is important to remind producers the importance of safe handling of pesticides and herbicides. Exposures to pesticides and herbicides are very common especially for applicators who use these chemicals on a daily basis. Pesticide exposure on the job can happen for many different reasons. Lack of knowledge of personal protective equipment (PPE), improper laundering of work clothes, or simply not washing up after application, may all contribute to exposures on the job.

A person has to come into direct contact with pesticides and herbicides before injury and illness can occur. The three main entry routes for these compounds into the body are dermal, (exposure through the skin or eyes), respiratory (inhalation into the lungs), and oral (ingestion by mouth).

Dermal: Absorption is a common route of pesticide exposure for the applicator. Contact with the concentrated product during mixing and loading presents the greatest risk for exposure. The level of absorption depends on the properties of the pesticide, its formulation, and parts of the body exposed. The hands and forearms are the most common sites of pesticide accumulation during pesticide use, and unwashed hands cross-contaminate other parts of the body. Eyes are extremely absorptive, and eye injury can occur when pesticides or herbicides are accidentally splashed or sprayed on the face.

Respiratory: Exposures by inhalation can occur during the mixing of wettable powders, dusts, or granules. Poisoning can also occur while fumigating or spraying without a self-contained breathing apparatus or a proper respirator in an enclosed or poorly ventilated area. Larger inhaled particles tend to stay on the surface of the throat and nasal passages and do not enter the lungs. Smaller particles directly enter the lungs. The number of particles needed to poison by inhalation depends upon the concentration of the chemical in the particles. Once chemicals are inhaled into the lungs, a fast route of entry is provided into the bloodstream.

Oral: Avoid eating, drinking, or smoking prior to washing your hands, as oral exposure in the occupational setting is most often the result of the ingestion of pesticide and herbicide residues from the hands into the mouth. In addition, keep pesticides and herbicides in their original containers; never transfer them into food or drink containers. Ingested materials can be absorbed anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract; the major absorption site is in the small intestines, and once absorbed they circulate throughout the body.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is your first line defense against potential exposures to pesticides and herbicides. The types of PPE required vary according to the toxicity and physical form of the chemical. Always read the pesticide label for complete instructions and specific requirements relating to PPE. Remember, the PPE listed IS NOT A SUGGESTION, it is the minimum amount of PPE that must be worn. Mixing concentrated pesticides most often requires more PPE, because you are working with concentrated pesticide chemicals.  

During application, pesticides and herbicides may settle on you and your clothing, where they can be carried into your vehicle and your home. Assume clothing that has been used while working with pesticides or herbicides has been contaminated. Always remove your contaminated clothing and gear prior to leaving the application site; and place it in a plastic garbage bag for laundering. Wash clothing separately from the rest of the family’s clothing; this prevents any possibility of cross-contamination. It is best to pre-soak contaminated clothing in hot water containing a heavy-duty liquid detergent. Start the cycle after the pre-wash water has been drained. It is important to clean the washing machine after the wash cycle by running a complete cycle of water and detergent through it. In addition, boots, gloves, goggles, and other protective equipment used on application sites, should be adequately cleaned prior to leaving the site, and stored in a non-living area of the office or home.

Human health risks from pesticides and herbicides may be caused by acute (short term) or chronic (long term) exposures. Acute effects of exposure to pesticides and herbicides are most often the result of misuse, including application inconsistent with the product labeling.  Symptoms of acute exposure include skin rash, headache, dizziness, muscle pain, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting, and breathing difficulties. If you experience any of these symptoms while working with these chemicals, seek medical attention immediately. Chronic effects of pesticide and herbicide exposure can include immune system suppression, birth defects, cancer, and neurotoxicity. If you work regularly with pesticides, be sure to consult with your physician to discuss additional ways to prevent possible exposure, and to be aware of any signs or symptoms of pesticide exposure. In addition, if you work with organophosphate-type pesticides, you should discuss the possibility of a baseline acetylcholine esterase blood test with your physician.

Connecticut Department of Public Health

Written By

Photo of John CothrenJohn CothrenCounty Extension Director and Ext Agent, Agriculture - Livestock and Field Crops (336) 651-7348 john_cothren@ncsu.eduWilkes County, North Carolina
Posted on Apr 21, 2016
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