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Reported Pesticide Poisonings for 2001 in California Drop
(from April 2, 2003)

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) released a summary of the 979 reported suspected pesticide illness reports for 2001, which is a decrease of 165 (14 percent) from 2000, when 1,144 cases were investigated. According to DPR, although state law requires physicians to report suspected pesticide illnesses, compliance is low.

The Summary of Results from the California Pesticide Illness Surveillance Program 2001, released on March 27, finds that pesticides were at least a possible factor in 616 (63 percent) of the cases. Of those, 192 (31 percent) involved the use of pesticides in agriculture, and 424 (69 percent) occurred in other settings. Lack of information prevented evaluation of 159 (16 percent) of the cases, reflecting the difficulties agricultural commissioners encountered in trying to investigate cases identified months after the fact. All illness reports go to County Agricultural Commissioners for initial investigation.

DPR reports that exposure to residue was implicated for 45 (79 percent) of the field workers in 2001. Another 10 field workers (18 percent) were exposed to drift. Two field workers were exposed by other mechanisms: one field worker smelled pesticide (metam-sodium) that leaked from a vandalized tractor in an equipment yard adjacent to his work site, and a disinfectant spilled into a worker's eyes when his tractor overturned on the way to a field.

In 2001, DPR recorded a total of 155 individuals who reported symptoms definitely, probably, or possibly related to exposure to drift in 112 separate episodes. This includes 25 people exposed in the course of routine indoor activities (e.g., office worker, store clerk, etc.) and 37 exposed during routine outdoor activities, in addition to 10 field workers and 65 pesticide handlers (including two people who did maintenance work on pesticide equipment as well as mixers, loaders, and/or applicators).

Since the illness surveillance program depends upon reported illnesses and injuries, it does not produce a "census" of pesticide injuries. Studies by DPR's Worker Health and Safety Branch indicate that occupational and agricultural-related injuries are more likely to be reported than exposures that occur at home. The studies also indicate that the illness surveillance program is very effective in detecting illnesses involving a group of people injured in a single episode.

The DPR summary of all pesticide illness data for 2001 is available at http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/whs/pdf/hs1843.pdf.