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Agricultural workers' exposure

© James Morgan, Panos

Farmers and agricultural workers are mostly exposed to paraquat through their skin because for various reasons, the urgently required protective clothing is often not used.  

This pesticide's high toxicity make its use dangerous to farmers and workers. One particularly hazardous practice is the use of manually operated spraying devices strapped to the back ('knapsack sprayers'). Exposure in this case is greater than when the pesticide is sprayed from tractors. The consequences of applying paraquat without protective clothing, with a leaky spraying device or in case of careless handling may include severe damage to the skin or even death. Spraying devices must not have any leaks (either on the tank or the lever arm), contaminated clothing must be removed immediately and contaminated skin must be washed in flowing water.  

Obvious though these measures may be, they are applied all too infrequently in practice. The reasons for this often include the inadequate condition of the spraying equipment, a lack of sanitary facilities in rural areas, ignorance of the health risks on the part of the workers or pressure at the workplace. Exposure to paraquat suffered by workers as they spray it entails considerable acute and chronic health risks that can be reduced only to a certain extent even if the product is handled carefully and protective clothing is used.  

Many workers wear no protective clothing because it makes working in the fields difficult in warm climate conditions. Furthermore, a lot of workers cannot afford protective clothing because of financial reasons.