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.
Pesticides Exposures - Expert Article
The experts at Robson Forensic are frequently retained to investigate incidents involving human exposure to toxic substances. Very often those exposures involve pesticides. “Pesticide” is the general term for substances that are designed to attract, capture, destroy, or mitigate a pest. The type of pest they target further classifies them as specific pesticides. For example, pesticides that kill insects are “insecticides,” those that kill plants are “herbicides,” and those which affect fungi are “fungicides.” Each type of chemical works by various mechanisms to minimizes the effects of each type of pest. By their very nature, pesticides are designed to be inherently toxic.
When working with a client on a case involving pesticides, the nature of the investigation varies broadly depending on the specifics of each case. In general, Robson Forensic experts will likely have questions about the name and type of substance in question, the amount to which the person was exposed, and the routes of exposure. These questions are important to identify quickly because over 1.1 billion pounds of many different pesticide active ingredients are used annually in the United States.
Human Pesticide Exposures
Pesticide exposure may lead to a variety of health effects, from short-term irritation of the skin, eyes, and upper respiratory tract, to severe long-term injuries that affect the central nervous system.
Due to the widespread use of pesticides, chronic low-level exposure to numerous pesticide ingredients is common.
- Pesticides are used extensively on most commercially grown foods, as well as by property owners or renters for control of various pests in residential or commercial buildings.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has jurisdiction over pesticide use, and there are even drinking water and indoor air quality standards for some of the more commonly used pesticides.
- Proper procedures for application of pesticides are typically found on the product label and the Safety Data Sheet (SDS).
The exposure standard for each active ingredient in a pesticide is determined for that ingredient alone. Consideration typically is not given to the additive effects that may occur when other similar-acting members of the same pesticide class are used. The combination of effects that could result from using multiple pesticides is also rarely addressed when exposure standards are set. Consequently, exposure to many individual members of a class of pesticides may reach a much higher overall level of chemical exposure than the federally determined safe level for a single specific member of any given class.
What Can Go Wrong?
If pesticides are improperly applied, a potential toxic exposure may occur. 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 and the SDS. Those pesticides that are regulated should only be used by a licensed pest control operator because of their inherent toxicity. As a result of the required training and documentation associated with their use, these regulated pesticides are not available to the general public.
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’s 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, toxic human exposures may occur.
Other potentially toxic situations can result from spills that occur in the area of the application, a failure to follow the label instructions, or the storage of these chemicals in locations that are easily accessible to children or other vulnerable populations.
There are a variety of experts whose services may be relevant in a pesticide related investigation.
Industrial Hygienist: Diane Trainor, Ph.D., CHCM - An industrial hygienist may be needed if an indoor air quality hazard exists and air sampling and analysis are necessary. In many cases drinking water and surface samples may also be necessary.
Facilities Engineer: Michael Klein, P.E, CHMM, C.F.E.I - A facilities engineer may be called in to answer questions regarding the standard of care for application of pesticides, construction, and heating and ventilation concerns.
Toxicologist: Vanessa A. Fitsanakis, Ph.D., ATS Fellow - A toxicologist can address the adverse effects of these chemicals on living organisms, including humans and pets.