Background: Pesticide use and its consequences are of concern in Bolivia due to an intensive and increasing use.
Methods: To assess the magnitude and reasons for occupational pesticide intoxication, a cross-sectional study with interviews and blood-tests was performed among 201 volunteer farmers from 48 villages in the temperate and subtropical valleys in the eastern part of the Andes Mountains in Bolivia. Of these 171 male farmers using pesticides in their agricultural production were used in the statistical analysis, including linear- and logistic regression analysis.
Results: This study documented a frequent use of the most toxic pesticides among farmers who have had almost no instructions in how to use pesticides and protect themselves against the dangers of intoxication, reflected in the hazardous practices used when handling pesticides. Symptoms of intoxications were common in connection with spraying operations. The risk of experiencing symptoms and the serum cholinesterase activity were influenced by whether or not organophosphates were used and the number of times sprayed. The experience of symptoms was moreover influenced by the hygienic and personal protective measures taken during spraying operations while this had no influence on the serum cholinesterase level.
Conclusion: The study showed that occupational pesticide intoxications were common among farmers and did depend on multiple factors. Pesticide use is probably one of the largest toxicological problems in Bolivia, and a coordinated action by authorities, society and international bodies is needed to limit the number of intoxications and the environmental pollution.