Richard A. Fenske, PhD, MPH

Associate Chair, Env. and Occ. Health Sciences
Professor, Env. and Occ. Health Sciences (Primary department)
Dr. Fenske's work has focused on the evaluation of environmental health risks in special populations, such as children, farm workers, and farm producers. Specialty areas include health risks of pesticide exposures, development of new exposure assessment methods, and investigation of the role of skin exposure for workers and children. He has also worked on the impact of climate change on human health in Washington State. His teaching activities include exposure assessment, environmental risk, and public health policy related to pesticides. He received the 2006 NIOSH Director’s Award for Excellence in Research and the 2007 Jerome Wesolowski Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Field of Exposure Science from the International Society of Exposure Science He currently serves as a member of National Academy of Medicine Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research, and Medicine. In 2008-2009 Dr. Fenske was Chair of the Institute of Medicine's Committee to Review the Health Effects of Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides (Seventh Biennial Update), and served from 2006-2009 as a member of the Environmental Protection Agency's Human Studies Review Board. He also authored the Chemical Hazards section of the International Labor Organization’s Protocol on Agricultural Health and Safety in 2009. He recently served as Co-Chair, Technical Advisory Group on Climate Change, Human Health and Security, Washington State (2010-12).

Contact Information

University of Washington
Office: HSB F-226A
Box: 357234
1959 NE Pacific Street
Seattle, WA 98195-
Tel: 206-543-0916

Research Interests

  • Evaluation of environmental health risks in special populations, such as children, farm workers, and farm producers.
  • Agricultural safety and health. Children's health and health. Cholinesterase monitoring. Climate change. Exposure assessment. Fluorescent tracer. Industrial hygiene. Lead paint. Occupational exposure. Pediatric environmental health. Pesticides. Pesticides and children. Risk assessment. Risk communication. Risk management. Vector control.

Teaching interests

Technical and social aspects of risk assessment and risk management
Environmental sampling and analysis
Pesticides and public health policy


PhD, Environmental Health, University of California (Berkeley), 1984
MPH, Environmental Health, University of California (Berkeley), 1978
MA, Geography, University of California (Berkeley), 1976
BA, History, Stanford University, 1970
MA, Comparative Religion, Columbia University, 1972


1. Prevention of Exposure to Pesticide Drift
Pesticide drift from agricultural applications continues to a public health concern in Washington State, and particularly within the tree fruit industry. We are currently evaluating new application equipment that may reduce the potential for pesticide drift. This work is relevant to workers who may be exposed to drift, as well as communities in agricultural regions. We are also evaluating weather conditions that can affect pesticide drift. Recent studies include measurement of pesticide drift from orchard airblast applications through the use of micronutrient tracers. This approach is cost effective, allowing collection of substantial data on drift patterns. We are also conducting research into possible notification methods for pesticide applications.

2. New Safety Practices and Technologies to Minimize Pesticide Handler Exposures
We are currently working with orchard managers and pesticide handlers to design and test practical interventions that can reduce pesticide exposures among farm workers in Washington State, including new spray technologies to improve worker safety and minimize pesticide drift. We recently developoed a set of 'best practices' for pesticide handlers and are working to disseminate these practices regionally and nationally.

3. Comparative Risk Analysis of Alternative Pest Control Approaches in Washington State orchardsAzinphos-methyl, an organophosphorus insecticide widely used to control the codling moth in tree fruit, is no longer available to Washington State growers. As a result, a variety of alternative products are being introduced. This project, led by PhD student Jane Pouzou, aims to evaluate the risks for workers associated with these alternatives.

4. Ergonomic and Safety Hazards of Mobile Orchard Platforms
We are partnering with the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission to evaluate new technologies such as mobile platforms that are being introduced into Washington orchards. Our current project focuses on postural and other stressors associated with repetitive work during pruning, green fruit thinning, and harvesting. We hope to collaborate with Washington State University investigators to include an analysis of changes in work organization and to compare platforms with ladders in regard to safety.

5. Climate Change and Human Health
Our group was funded through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to evaluate the historical and projected impacts of extreme heat events on human health in Washington State. This work is part of a larger University of Washington effort to characterize the impact of climate change in our region. We are working on new models to predict morbidity and mortality associated with heat waves and degraded air quality. We are also evaluating the impact of extreme heat events on demand for emergency medical services. Our goal is to assist the state and the region in adapting to new environmental conditions that are likely to affect the public's health.

6. Children's Exposure to Pesticides
Our group has focused on this topic for more than 15 years, with a particular interest in the children of agricultural workers. Current work focuses on pesticide exposure pathways for children in agricultural communities. We have particular interest in exposure related to pesticide drift, and parental transfer of pesticides from the workplace to the home. We are also exploring methods to improve and validate exposure and dose models for children's exposure to hazardous chemicals.

7. Flourescent Tracer Evaluation of Chemical Exposures
Our laboratory has the expertise to evaluate dermal exposures to chemicals with fluorescent tracers. Current projects include (1) use of the fluorescent tracer technique as a worker education tool among pesticide applicators in Washington State, and (2) development of a user manual and video for this technique.

8. Hazard Characterization in Northwest Fishing, Farming and Forestry
The Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center has a variety of projects aimed at characterizing and reducing risks for workers and their families. Opportunities exist to work on projects that use epidemiologic methods, exposure assessment and control methods, and innovative technologies such as geographic information systems, as well as investigation of relationships between risks, behavior, and economics in farming, fishing and forestry.
Selected Publications

Magzamen S, Moore BF, Yost MG, Fenske RA, Karr CJ. 2016. Ozone-related respiratory morbidity in a low-pollution region. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (in press).

Quiller G, Krenz J, Ebi K, Hess J, Fenske RA, Sampson PD, Pan M, Spector JT. 2016. Heat exposure and productivity in orchards: Implications for climate change research. Archives of Environmental and Occupational Health (in press). 

Pouzou JG*, Cullen AC, Yost MG, Kissel JC, Fenske RA. Probabilistic assessment of occupational exposure and dose for three pesticides: comparison with deterministic risk assessments. Risk Analysis (in press).

Handal AJ, Hund L, Páez M, Bear S, Greenberg C, Fenske RA, Barr DB. 2016. Characterization of pesticide exposure in a sample of pregnant women in Ecuador. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol, May;70(4):627-39. doi: 10.1007/s00244-015-0217-9.PMID:26311023

Galvin K, Krenz J, Harrington M, Palmández P, Fenske RA. 2016. Practical Solutions for Pesticide Safety: a farm and research team participatory model. J AgroMed, 21(1):113-22

Calkins MM*, Isaksen TB, Stubbs BA, Yost MG, Fenske RA. 2016. Impacts of extreme heat on emergency medical service calls in King County, Washington, 2007-2012: relative risk and time series analyses of basic and advanced life support. Environ Health Perspect Jan 28;15:13 doi: 10.1186/s12940-016-0109-0.

Gibbs JL*, Yost MG, Negrete M, Fenske RA. 2016. Passive sampling of indoor and outdoor exposures to chlorpyrifos, azinphos-methyl, and oxygen analogs in a rural agricultural community. Environ Health Perspect Aug 12. PMID:27517732. DOI:10.1289/EHP425

Spector JT, Bonauto DK, Sheppard L, Busch-Isaksen T, Calkins M, Adams D, Lieblich M, Fenske RA. 2016. A case-crossover study of heat exposure and injury risk in outdoor agricultural workers. PLoS One Oct 7;11(10):e0164498. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0164498.

Handal AJ, McGough-Maduena A, Páez M, Skipper B, Rowland AS, Fenske RA, Harlow SD. 2015. A pilot study comparing observational and questionnaire surrogate measures of pesticide exposure among residents impacted by the Ecuadorian flower industry. Arch Environ Occup Health 70(4):232-40.

Krenz JE, Hofmann JN, Smith TR, Cunningham RN, Fenske RA, Simpson CD, Keifer M. 2015. Determinants of butyrylcholinesterase inhibition among agricultural pesticide handlers in Washington State: an update. Ann Occup Hyg 59(1):24-40.

Singleton ST, Lein PJ, Dadson OA, McGarrigle BP, Farahat FM, Farahat T, Bonner MR, Fenske RA, Galvin K, Lasarev MR, Anger WK, Rohlman DS, Olson JR. 2015. Longitudinal assessment of occupational exposures to the organophosphorus insecticides chlorpyrifos and profenfos in Egyptian cotton field workers. Int J Hyg Environ Health 218(2):203-11.

Curl CL, Beresford SA, Fenske RA, Fitzpatrick AL, Lu C, Nettleton JA, Kaufman JD. 2015. Estimating pesticide exposure from dietary intake and organic food choices: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Environ Health Perspect 123(5):475-83.

Pearce NE et al. (>50 authors, including myself). 2015. IARC Monographs: 40 years of evaluating carcinogenic hazards to humans. Environ Health Perspect. 123(6):507-14.

Isaksen TB, Yost MG, Hom EK, Ren Y, Lyons H, Fenske RA. 2015. Increased hospital admissions associated with extreme-heat exposure in King County, Washington, 1990-2010. Rev Environ Health 30(1):51-64. 

Isaksen TB, Fenske RA, Hom EK, Ren Y, Lyons, H, Yost MG. 2015. Increased mortality associated with extreme-heat exposure in King County, Washington, 1980-2010. Int J Biometeorol, May 10 (Epub ahead of print).

Armstrong JL*, Yost MG, Fenske RA. 2014. Development of a passive air sampler to measure airborne organophosphorus pesticides and oxygen analogs in an agricultural community. Chemosphere 111:135-43.

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