Assessment of Health Effects of Children Living in an Agricultural Community

Widespread use of organophosphorus pesticides (OP) has been recognized as a health concern for both agricultural and non-agricultural communities. Although children can be exposed to pesticides through residential use of pesticides and diet, children of agricultural workers are considered to have a higher risk of exposure to pesticides compared to the general population due to close proximity of their homes to fields where pesticides are applied and from take-home exposure. Homes located in agricultural communities have higher levels of pesticide residues in house dust compared to homes in non-agricultural communities. Children and adults living in agricultural communities also have higher levels of metabolites (break-down product of pesticides) in urine than those living in non-agricultural communities.

Children are considered to be more vulnerable to pesticide exposure because their bodies and brain are still developing. They may also increase their exposure because they spend a lot of time crawling on the floor and putting things in their mouth. Recent studies have shown a relationship between prenatal exposure to pesticides and decreased cognitive performance and ADHD.

Researchers from the Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology (CROET) at Oregon Health & Science University utilized a three-staged approach to evaluate pesticide exposure in an agricultural community. This work was funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) through the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety & Health Center (PNASH).

A community-based survey (N=550) was conducted to assess what people living in an agricultural community know about pesticides and to identify their concerns about exposure to pesticides, particularly in the Latino community.

A longitudinal study with families living in an agricultural community was conducted between 2008 and 2011. The goal was to characterize exposure to organophosphate pesticides in children and to examine the impact on their cognitive performance.

A bilingual training program (Safe Workplace, Safe Home/Sitio de Trabajo Seguro, Hogar Segur) was developed and evaluated to present methods to reduce exposure at work and home.

Psychosocial Stress in Latino Farmworkers

Many factors impact the health of agricultural workers, including workplace hazards, exposure to chemicals, limited resources, and access to medical care. Seasonal variations in work demand can also lower their control over the work environment. This can increase the risk for adverse health effects in workers, which can then impact their children and families. Pilot funding from the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety & Health Center (PNASH) was used to examine the impact of stress on farmworker families.

Based on interviews with agricultural families, we developed a questionnaire to look at stressors such as access to medical care, childcare, and social and workplace support. Thirty-two couples were interviewed at a low work demand time (pruning) and a high work demand time (harvest). We collected hair samples from the participants to measure cortisol, a biological marker of stress.

This project will allow us to characterize the risk factors and basic health parameters in agricultural families and to examine changes due to workplace activities. Acculturation, access to resources, hard physical labor and fluctuating employment opportunities may be countered by strong social support and family networks. The association between self-reported stress and a biological marker of stress will also be examined.