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Thousands of pesticide poisonings, some linked to North Carolina

Anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 agricultural workers are diagnosed with the workplace disease of pesticide poisoning each year. Pesticide poisoning can cause a variety of health problems. In recent years, three farm laborers who were exposed to pesticides during their pregnancies each gave birth to infants with birth defects. One of the women was exposed to the harmful agent while working at a North Carolina tomato farm.

The circumstances of those three births were investigated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Heath which runs a program in 11 states called the Sentinel Event Notification System for Occupational Risks - Pesticides Program. The investigation revealed that all three women worked for the same grower during a sensitive time of their pregnancies. Two worked for an operation in Florida, and one in North Carolina.

Both North Carolina and Florida investigators found several pesticide and record keeping violations at the tomato farms.

Since that unfortunate incident, North Carolina started a taskforce to combat this dangerous workplace exposure to pesticides. There are still more than 2,000 cases of pesticide poisonings each year in North Carolina, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

A pesticide is "any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling or mitigating any pest," according to federal law.

The following workers may be at risk for occupational exposure to pesticides:

• Agricultural workers

• Groundskeepers

• Pet groomers

• Fumigators

Anyone who experiences pesticide poisoning as a result of their occupation should take the following steps:

• Seek medical attention

• Report the illness/injury to supervisors and the Carolinas Poison Center

• Tell medical providers you were hurt on the job

• Report the illness to your employer in writing within 30 days, using the employer's forms or forms from the state

Source: Occupational Health & Safety, "NIOSH Fact Sheet Highlights Pesticide Poisoning Monitoring Program," Dec. 12, 2011

Source: North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, "Pesticides in North Carolina," Dec. 16, 2011

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