For many years I’ve been involved in crop protection, speaking about Integrated Pest Management (IPM), reducing use of pesticides, scouting and how to protect the environment. There is a point I think we never talk about enough and that is the health protection of the growers using and spraying pesticides. Each time I have the opportunity, I take time to refresh or discuss with growers their safety regarding pesticides.
With the recent reform of Quebec’s occupational health and safety system, Bill 59, the Québec government has formally recognized the link between occupational exposure to pesticides and the development of Parkinson’s disease. That means a person developing Parkinson’s symptoms – for example, tremors, muscle stiffness or difficulty in swallowing, chewing or speaking—could be compensated if there’s proof of occupational exposure to pesticides. This legislation is a good thing, but I think we need to work harder on prevention and make sure that growers protect themselves properly.
In 2016, I investigated the IPM/pesticide practices specific to potato growers. In the analysis, all aspects of IPM and environment protection were covered as well as health protection of the growers. At the end, a very bad conclusion about health protection appeared: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) use was inadequate or missing in all of the 12 farms investigated. That means a score of 100%, but in the wrong way!
Results showed three types of growers. First, those who don’t wear any PPE at any step of pesticide application. Second, those who wear incomplete PPE for appropriate protection. Example: wearing gloves and waterproof boots but with a single shirt and no mask during preparing and mixing. Finally, people using appropriate PPE but with wrong cleaning and storage habits of the equipment.
At the same time, l’Institut National de Santé Publique du Québec (INSPQ) surveyed other potato growers and scouts in potato fields. The institute conducted an analysis of the level of ETU, a metabolite of mancozeb, in the urine of the surveyed people. Data were collected on types of PPE, their actions (spraying, mixing, cleaning, scouting) and the delay of exposure after spraying. The results showed that everyone had been exposed to mancozeb, but at different levels. In all cases of growers, PPE was missing or misused.
Considering these poor results, I decided to put more time and efforts on grower education about PPE. And, there are seven aspects of protection to keep in mind.
Ok! Time is money but taking some minutes to put on appropriate PPE won’t make weeds grow much more. Protecting yourself should never be a time issue. If you are taking time to do things right the first time, you will not have to take time to do it again. At the end, you are saving time and it is true with safety.
Know what the appropriate PPE is for your needs. Read pesticide labels which inform about what PPE is needed. Know how to wear and remove PPE to prevent exposure. Get familiar with the equipment and know its limits.
Protect your PPE. Don’t wear torn gloves or clothes that can let pesticides seep through. Store your PPE in a safe place away from pesticides and things that could alter them. Protect your environment from contamination. If re-entering your sprayer, be sure you don’t bring residues and contaminate the cabin.
Wearing multiple layers of clothes and PPE will protect you better than only one. Wearing three layers will reduce exposure by 90% compared to wearing a single layer of clothes.
Clean your gloves thoroughly before taking off PPE and keep them to manipulate and thoroughly clean PPE. Always wear PPE when cleaning your sprayer. You are exposed to spills that can contain pesticides. After a spraying session, change your clothes and wash them separately. Finally, taking a shower shortly after spraying to remove any residues on your body is a very good habit.
- Direct exposure
Filling the sprayer and mixing products are critical moments for exposure to concentrated pesticides. Wearing complete PPE is essential at these moments. Manipulating and eliminating pesticide containers requires suitable protection. Unclogging a nozzle is a common way of exposure. Entering your storage facility exposes you to vapours, so you need to properly ventilate or wear a respirator mask.
- Indirect exposure
These unanticipated moments of exposure are often not in the action of spraying. Washing the exterior of the sprayer can expose you to spills. Fixing the sprayer after a session can expose you to pesticides. If you are using a tractor to pull a sprayer, remember that tractor might be used for other work and then be a source of contamination for the operator.
Finally, protecting oneself against pesticide exposure is not difficult but needs a constant awareness. There is a lot of information about PPE on the web. Take time to familiarize yourself with PPE. Identify what are the critical watch points in your working habits and make the needed adjustments to ensure proper protection. If you won’t let your child do the work with the clothes you are wearing, stop everything! That means you are not well protected.