Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Pesticide poisoning

Pesticide poisonings, where chemicals intended to control a pest affect non-target organisms such as humans, wildlife, or bees. In the US, since label directions are specifically designed to protect applicators and other humans, wildlife, and other environmental resources; the majority of pesticide poisonings result from violations of the label directions.

A major exception to the above rule of thumb, was likely the worst single case of pesticide poisoning that ever has occurred, which came as a result of an industrial accident at a Union Carbide pesticide manufacturing plant in Bhopal, India. On the night of December 3, 1984, a leak erupted from one of the tanks of methyl isocyanate, a gas that is an intermediate step in the production of carbaryl and aldicarb. For two hours the gas poured out and into the surrounding community, killing at least 3,800 people, and permanently disabling 40. About two thousand seven hundred people were partly disabled and over 400,000 have lingering health effects. The worst damage was to the eyes and lungs of the victims, but there were many other physical and psychiatric symtoms as well. One cause of the severity of the accident was that all safety and backup systems were either disabled or inadequate for the accident.

Table of contents
1 The label is the KEY
2 Acute poisoning of humans
3 Chronic poisoning, genetic damage, and birth defects of humans
4 Poisoning of other non-target organisms (wildlife, bees)

The label is the KEY

Pesticides designed to kill pests are usually toxic to other creatures as well, including the applicator, people working in the field, and non-target organisms such as birds, wild and domestic animals and bees (our primary pollinators). The label for each chemical pesticide is designed after extensive testing to maximize the effectiveness of this particular material and minimize risks. It often takes millions of dollars and several years to get a new material labeled ie approved for use, in the USA. Prevention of pesticide poisoning, as well as first aid response when accidents occur all should start with the label.

A fruit farmer in New York was preparing to use paraquat for weed control in his orchard. He spilled the concentrate on his bare forearm and hand, while mixing in the tank. He immediately flooded the affected skin with water from the filler hose. Notwithstanding his immediate washing, he died of chemical pneumonia the following week. His death was preventable had he not made three errors: 1. He had a casual attitude about a highly toxic chemical, 2. He was not wearing skin protection as directed by the label, and 3. He did not seek immediate medical attention after the accident.

Prior to using any pesticide, even the garden dust one buys at the discount store, carefully read the label. Knowning what it says may keep you or someone else from injury or death. You should also be aware that it is a legal document and using the material contrary to the directions is a violation.

There are three technical words used on pesticide labels that are important to check.

Acute poisoning of humans

It is critical, when pesticide poisoning is suspected to get competent treatment as rapidly as possible. Since pesticides have different modes of action, and different medical responses, it is also critical to refer to the label. If you are using a pesticide, be sure a copy of the label is present and accessible before you begin use. If you are rendering first aid, if at all possible, obtain a copy of the pesticide label for yourself and for the medical personnel.

If one is regularly using carbamate and organophosphate pesticides, it is important to obtain a baseline cholinesterase test. Cholinestarase is an important enzyme of the nervous system, and these chemical groups kill pests, and potentially injure or kill humans by inhibiting cholinestarase. If one has a baseline test, and suspects a poisoning, one can identify the extent of it by comparison of the current cholinesterase level with the baseline level.

Pesticides can enter the body from inhalation, ingestion, or eye or skin contact. Many cases of poisoning occur to applicators without proper protection. Another scenario is that pesticides are directly applied to farmworkers in the field, or that they re-enter treated field before the toxicity levels drop to acceptable levels.

Chronic poisoning, genetic damage, and birth defects of humans


Poisoning of other non-target organisms (wildlife, bees)


External Links