Pesticide Exposures - Expert Article

This article provides an introduction to pesticide exposures, including background information on pesticides, how exposures occur, and information on experts who may be relevant if you have a case involving a pesticide exposure.


The experts at Robson Forensic are frequently retained to investigate incidents involving human exposure to toxic substances. Very often those exposures involve pesticides. The nature of these investigations varies broadly depending on the specifics of each case, including the substance in question, the dose, and the routes of exposure. 1.1 billion pounds of pesticide active ingredient are used annually in the United States.

Pesticides are substances that are designed to attract, seduce, destroy, or mitigate a pest. They are a class of Biocide. In general, a pesticide is a chemical or biological agent that deters, incapacitates, kills, or otherwise minimizes the effects of pests. By their very nature they are inherently toxic. They are often used to control organisms that are considered to be harmful or simply a nuisance.

Human Pesticide Exposures

Pesticide Exposures

A pesticide exposure may lead to a variety of health effects,from a simple irritation of the skin and eyes, to more severe effects targeting the central nervous system.

Due to the widespread use of pesticides, low-level exposures to numerous pesticide ingredients are common.

  • Pesticides are present in most commercially grown food, are used extensively for residential, commercial building pest control, and agricultural concerns.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has jurisdiction over pesticide use. There are drinking water standards for only a few pesticides.
  • Proper procedures for application of pesticides are typically found on the product label.

The exposure standard for each active ingredient in a pesticide is determined for that ingredient alone. Consideration is not given to the additive effects of other similar-acting members of the same pesticide class. Nor is the synergistic effect of pesticide exposure accounted for in setting standards. Consequently, an individual exposure to a class of pesticides may reach a much higher level than the federally determined safe level for specific members of a class.

What Can Go Wrong?

If pesticides are improperly applied a potential health exposure may develop. Pest Control Operators must be properly trained and certified to apply pesticides. In addition, any pesticide application must be done in conformance with the directions and precautions identified on the pesticide label. Those pesticides that are regulated are only to be used by a licensed pest control operator because of their inherent toxicity. They are not available to the public because of their potency.

Pesticide misapplications can and do occur because of poorly trained or untrained operators, lack of adherence to the requirements of the label, or simply human error when applying the pesticide. For example, chlordane, a chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticide, has been used to treat termites in residential homes. Misapplication has occurred in many cases due to accidental penetration of the pesticide into the homeowner heating ducts. The homeowner would only become aware of the situation when the heat was turned on for the first time, often months later. With windows closed and pesticide vapors emanating from the ducts, human exposures occur.

Other examples are spills that may occur in the area of the application, and not following the label instructions. Unfortunately, the acute and chronic effects of exposure to chlorinated pesticides have not been determined.


There are a variety of experts whose services may be relevant in a pesticide related investigation.

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