NIOSH Study Illustrates Scope of Illness Caused by Two Common Herbicides
New NIOSH research indicates that, compared to other pesticides, a majority of herbicide-related deaths in the U.S. are caused by the common herbicides paraquat and diquat. Agency researchers reviewed combined data from 1998 to 2011 using three sources—NIOSH’s Sentinel Event Notification System for Occupational Risks (SENSOR)-Pesticides Program, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation Pesticide Illness Surveillance Program, and the EPA Office of Pesticide Programs’ Incident Data System—in order to describe the scope of illness associated with the use of paraquat and diquat in the U.S. According to NIOSH, this study is the first to examine the extent of illness caused by the two herbicides. Seventy-six percent of paraquat-related acute illnesses reported during 1998–2011 were work-related, and NIOSH researchers cite failure to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), especially eye protection, as the most common reason that people became ill from the herbicide. Others were exposed to drift from a paraquat application site or accidental spills or splashes. Those made sick by diquat were most commonly exposed by accidental spills or splashes caused by application equipment failure, the study shows. “When less harmful weed control options aren’t an option, these findings suggest that additional training and stricter compliance with label instructions to ensure proper herbicide storage and PPE use are important measures to help prevent illness or even death,” said senior study author Geoff Calvert, MD, MPH, a NIOSH medical officer. The study is available online in the April 2016 issue of Environmental Research. For more information, see NIOSH’s press release.
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