Risk assessment of pesticide exposure on health of tobacco farmers

Tobacco is an important cash crop of Pakistan. Pesticides are commonly used to increase the crop yield, but their health impact has not been studied yet.  

Tobacco Farmer exposed to toxic PesticidesThe objectives of the study were to determine the frequency of pesticide poisoning and to explore the knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAP) towards safety measures among the tobacco farmers in Swabi, Pakistan.  

One hundred and five tobacco farmers involved in pesticide application were randomly selected from two villages of district Swabi. A structured questionnaire was used for clinical and KAP information. Plasma cholinesterase (PChE) levels were measured by Ellman’s method by using GD Italy kits. All tobacco farmers were males with a mean (SD) age of 26 (9) years.  

The majority of the farmers reported multiple symptoms headache, dizziness, vomiting, shortness of breath, muscle weakness and skin rash correlate with the clinically significant depression of PChE levels. 

Out of 105 pesticide applicators, 58 (55%) had post-exposure reduction in PChE levels <20% from baseline, 35 (33%) had mild poisoning (20-40% reduction) and 12 (11%) had moderate poisoning (>40% reduction).  

Most of the farmers did not use any personal protective equipment during pesticide handling. Only a few used shoes (31%), masks (14%) and gloves (9%) during pesticide spray.  

In conclusion, the tobacco farmers had mild to moderate pesticide poisoning, which was correlated with depression in PChE levels. Moreover, most farmers had little knowledge about the safety measures, casual attitude and unsatisfactory safety practices with regard to the use of basic protective equipments during pesticide applications on the tobacco crop. 

Reference: Khan DA, Shabbir S, Majid M, Naqvi TA, Khan FA., Risk assessment of pesticide exposure on health of Pakistani tobacco farmers, aDepartment of Pathology, Army Medical College, NUST, Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology advance online publication, 17 June 2009; doi:10.1038/jes.2009.13.

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