Validity study of self-reported pesticide exposure among orchardists

J Expo Anal Environ Epidemiol. Sep-Oct 2001;11(5):359-68. doi: 10.1038/sj.jea.7500176.


Self-reported work histories are often the only means of estimating occupational exposures in epidemiologic research. The objective of this study was to examine the accuracy of recall of historical pesticide use among orchardists. All 185 orchardists in this study had participated previously in a cohort study of men occupationally exposed to pesticides. In that study (1972 to 1976), subjects were interviewed annually and asked to list pesticides used since the last interview. In 1997, 265 of the 440 presumed-living orchardists from the original cohort were successfully recontacted and asked to complete a detailed questionnaire concerning their lifetime use of pesticides; 185 (69.8% of farmers successfully contacted) agreed. Considering the 1972-1976 data as the standard, sensitivity and specificity of recall were calculated for certain pesticides and pesticide categories. Sensitivity of recall was good to excellent (0.6-0.9) for the broad categories of insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides, for heavily used chemical classes, such as organophosphates and organochlorines, and for commonly used pesticides; it was lower and more variable (0.1-0.6) for specific pesticides. Recall specificity was greatest (0.7-0.9) for the least used pesticides and chemical classes, such as dithiocarbamates and manganese-containing pesticides, and was generally modest for the rest (0.5-0.6). There was no evidence of selection bias between study participants and nonparticipants. In conclusion, recall accuracy was good for commonly used pesticides and pesticide categories. This level of recall accuracy is probably adequate for epidemiologic analyses of broad categories of pesticides, but is a limitation for detecting more specific associations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Agriculture*
  • Bias
  • Cohort Studies
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Pesticides / adverse effects
  • Pesticides / analysis*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Pesticides