Pesticides and Health

Applicator sprays equipmentWhat is pesticide exposure?

Pesticides are substances designed to prevent, destroy, repel or mitigate pests. As of 2012, approximately 899 million pounds of conventional pesticides (e.g. insecticides, rodenticides, fungicides, herbicides, and fumigants) were used in United States agriculture (EPA 2017). 

What are potential adverse health effects of pesticide exposure?

Between 2007 and 2011, the rate of acute illness and injury among agricultural workers (18.6/1000,000) was estimated to be 37 times greater than the rate for nonagricultural workers (0.5/100,000) (Calvert et al. 2016). Skin absorption, inhalation, and ingestion are key routes of exposure to consider for occupational and residential settings. PNASH works to address pesticide exposure for those who are most vulnerable:

  • Pesticide handlers (mixers, loaders, and applicators) 
  • Children who have an enhanced susceptibility to the uptake and toxicity of pesticides

Overall, improved products, application practices, and case reporting have helped, but common illnesses and injuries still occur. Some of these common exposures happen through the off-target movement of pesticides (a.k.a. drift) or splashes to the eye. A growing body of evidence reveals that long-term exposure can lead to more serious health effects including neurological diseases and cancers.

PNASH Resources

Hand holding phone


A premium mobile application developed by the University of Washington that delivers detailed pesticide safety information in both Spanish and English.

Pesticide handler on tractor

¡Etiquetas de pesticidas, ahora!™/Pesticide Labels, Now!™

Esta aplicación bilingüe (versión beta) ya está disponible para productores de manzano y peral en el estado de Washington.

Pesticide handler on tractor

¡Etiquetas de pesticidas, ahora!™/Pesticide Labels, Now!™

Bilingual mobile app for apple and pear production in Washington state

PNASH Research

Engineering Solutions to Reduce Pesticide Exposure and Waste on Northwest Fruit Farms

NIOSH Funding Period 2022-2027 | Edward Kasner, PhD, MPH and Lav Khot, PhD

The overall objectives of this project are to evaluate emerging pesticide application technologies and educational programming as interventions for breaking the pesticide exposure pathway on Northwest fruit farming systems. Labor-intensive fruit commodities put farmworkers and their families at disproportionate risk of pesticide-related illness via pesticide handling, drift, or the take-home exposure pathways.

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Prevention of Occupational Exposure to Pesticide Drift

NIOSH Funding Period 2016-2022 | Richard Fenske, PhD, MPH and Edward Kasner, PhD, MPH

Pesticide drift is a long-standing issue in the Pacific Northwest, especially for the tree fruit industry and workforce. Studies have shown that at least 60% of drift events were linked to wind speed or direction changes. Understanding the role winds play in pesticide drift can prevent unintended exposure for workers and nearby communities.

Project Overview

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Practical Solutions for Pesticide Safety

NIOSH Funding Period 2016-2022 | Kit Galvin, MPH, CIH

Handheld pesticide application takes place in farming and forestry work, and unintentional exposures can be common. Few evidence-based and practical solutions have been developed and shared across these industries.

Project Overview

PNASH works with farmers, educators, and researchers across the Northwest to test and develop solutions originally developed by growers and workers for themselves. We have expanded from our original airblast application systems, to now include handheld and greenhouse applications. Each solution is assessed for the goals:

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