Pesticides on Farms:

Limited Capability Exists to Monitor Occupational Illnesses and Injuries

PEMD-94-6: Published: Dec 15, 1993. Publicly Released: Jan 21, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed federal and state efforts to monitor occupational illnesses resulting from exposure to pesticides on farms, focusing on whether federal and state monitoring systems provide sufficient information on pesticide-related illnesses in the farm sector.

GAO found that: (1) although numerous federal and state systems provide information on acute pesticide-related illnesses, none address delayed or chronic health effects and all but one are limited in scope and information quality; (2) the national incidence of pesticide illnesses that occur in the farm sector could not be determined because of a lack of sufficient data and monitoring; (3) the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for determining the potential occupational risks of pesticide use in the farm sector, developing practices to mitigate these effects, and establishing systems to monitor the effectiveness of its mitigation practices; (4) reporting of pesticide-related illnesses is inconsistent and incomplete because EPA relies on informal and voluntary state and local reporting systems and information obtained from national surveys and general data sources; (5) although 25 states have mandatory reporting requirements for occupational pesticide-related illnesses, most states report pesticide-illness information with general disease information; (6) California's monitoring system is the most effective and comprehensive and provides detailed information on pesticide-related illnesses; and (7) pesticide illness underreporting continues to be a serious problem because farmworkers often do not recognize and report illnesses and health care providers are not adequately trained to identify and report pesticide related illnesses.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA worked on a collaborative effort with NIOSH to develop a strategy to monitor occupational pesticide exposures. However, no budget resources have been devoted to this effort.

    Matter: Congress may wish to encourage EPA to increase its efforts to develop better pesticide monitoring capabilities by determining: (1) where greater monitoring efforts are needed, given the diversity that exists across the nation in the types of health effects and circumstances of exposures; (2) what methods are most effective and appropriate for monitoring pesticide illnesses; (3) what resources would be required to design, implement, and maintain monitoring strategies; and (4) what types of technical and other assistance should be provided to selected and other organizations to implement improved monitoring systems.


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