In response to a national effort to improve reporting of pesticide-related illness, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals’ Office of Public Health and the Department of Agriculture and Forestry released a five-year summary of pesticide health incidents.
The report, titled "Summary of Health Related Pesticide Incidents Reported in Louisiana from October 1995 through September 2000," summarizes data from the interagency Health-Related Pesticide Incident Report Program (HRPIR).
LDH Secretary David W. Hood said he hopes the release of this report will help improve reporting of pesticide-related illnesses. "If more people become educated about pesticide exposure and its effects, they will be more likely to report it, and we can gain better data to study and address this problem," Hood said. "Increasing awareness through this report is a step in that direction."
Findings indicate many health-related pesticide incidents occur in residential settings, such as a private home. Most severe incidents happened because individuals used a restricted pesticide in a home.
Off-target drift of agricultural pesticides caused several reported incidents.
Organophosphate pesticides, which are used in the agricultural production of food and livestock and also can be used for termite and mosquito control, were the types most often reported in exposure incidents.
The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry assisted with the report. Commissioner Bob Odom said the publication is evidence of the long-term goal of both agencies to further reduce the hazards inherent in the use of pesticides.
"We would like to commend the work done by the Department of Health and Hospitals," Odom said. "They have taken our raw pesticide health complaints data and made a meaningful document to better inform our citizens of the risks associated with the improper use of home and farm chemicals."
Symptoms of pesticide-related illnesses include headaches, nausea, respiratory problems and dizziness, among other things. Whenever physicians treat patients suffering from these symptoms and diagnose pesticide-related poisoning, state law requires that they refer these patients to LDAF and LDHH for further investigation.
In the five years the report covers, the agencies studied 336 cases of individuals claiming pesticide exposure made them ill. Of the individuals investigated, 5 percent had likely effects associated with pesticide exposure. Forty-eight percent of these individuals had "possible" exposure-related effects. Eight people required hospitalization and one fatality occurred, as a result of using a restricted pesticide in a home.
The report stresses that these complaints of pesticide exposure incidents may not reflect the actual numbers. Because many people are unaware of pesticide exposure and its effects, they may fail to report the problem. Also, doctors may treat these symptoms without diagnosing pesticide-related illness.
LDH and the Department of Agriculture plan to increase awareness of pesticide-related health effects, thereby increasing the number of cases properly diagnosed and reported.
Strategies to do this include better education for physicians and health care providers in recognizing and reporting pesticide-related health effects; educating agricultural workers and their families; and obtaining pesticide exposure data from additional sources.
To view a full copy of the summary or receive more information about pesticide use and awareness, please visit the OPH Web site, http://oph.dhh.state.la.us/environmentalepidemiology/pestincireport/docs/HRPIRCum02.pdf