Biomarkers of Farmworker Pesticide Exposure in North Carolina
Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 12:18PM
Chris Liu-Beers in Policy Brief, labor conditions, pesticides

A Policy Brief by the Center for Worker Health, Wake Forest University School of Medicine


This policy brief documents farmworker pesticide exposure during the 2007 agricultural season in North Carolina.  Based on these results, we present recommendations to improve safety and sanitation conditions for farmworkers.  Urine samples were collected by Wake Forest University School of Medicine investigators from 284 farmworkers at monthly intervals during the period of May through August 2007. A total of 939 urine samples were provided by farmworkers and analyzed for pesticide urinary metabolites by the National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta.

Click here to download this report.


Exposure to pesticides can have immediate and long-term health effects. Immediate health effects of exposure to small amounts of pesticides include rash, dizziness, headache, burning eyes, and muscle ache. Immediate health effects of exposure to large amounts of exposure include coma and death. Long-term effects of pesticide exposure include neurological problems, like memory loss and dementia, infertility, and cancer.

Farmworkers are exposed to pesticides in the fields where they work and the houses where they live. However, little information is available that documents the number of farmworkers who are exposed to pesticides. Information from this study documents the proportion of farmworkers who are exposed to the urinary metabolites associated with 4 organophosphorus insecticides, a carbamate fungicide, 2 pyrethroid insecticides, and 3 herbicides regularly used in North Carolina agriculture.


Organophosphorus (OP) Insecticides: The four metabolites analyzed and their associated insecticides were APE - acephate, TCPy - chlorpyrifos, MDA – malathion, and Dmet - dimethoate.

Carbamate Fungicide: The metabolite ETU was analyzed; it is associated with mancozeb. 

Pyrethroid Insecticides: Two pyrethroid urinary metabolites were analyzed.  3PBA is general pyrethroid metabolite. TCC is associated with permethrin.

Herbicides: Three herbicide urinary metabolites were analyzed, 2,4-D, ACE which is associated with acetochlor, and MET which is associated with metochlor.

Policy Implications

These results document the high percentage of farmworkers who are exposed to pesticides during an agricultural season. Greater effort is needed to reduce farmworker pesticide exposure through training farmers as well as farmworkers, more cautious use of pesticides, greater enforcement of current pesticide safety regulations, and new regulations documenting pesticide use. Implementing these changes will improve the immediate and long-term health of farmworkers.


Several steps should be taken to reduce pesticide exposure and improve pesticide safety for farmworkers.

Article originally appeared on Farmworker Advocacy Network (
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