Pesticides and the Third World

J Toxicol Environ Health. 1991 Jan;32(1):11-31. doi: 10.1080/15287399109531462.


Many developing countries are importing industrial processes that make use of toxic chemicals. By the same token, pesticides, which are toxic by design, are also used increasingly in agriculture and in public health programs to control pests and vector-borne diseases. Recent estimates suggest that pesticides account for more than 20,000 fatalities yearly, and that most of these will have occurred in developing countries. This may actually be a gross underreporting. Although organophosphate and carbamate insecticides are still responsible for many of those poisoning cases, herbicides such as paraquat are also increasingly being implicated in fatal poisoning cases. Newer pesticides such as the synthetic derivatives of pyrethrin, which were believed to be relatively safe to humans, now appear to be implicated in some serious cases of intoxication. Community-based pest control using locally available botanical pesticides could have severe consequences unless the toxicity of these compounds is carefully assessed relative to nontarget organisms. A high proportion of pesticide intoxications appear to be due to lack of knowledge, unsafe attitudes, and dangerous practices. The technology available to small farmers for pesticide application is often inappropriate: faulty sprayers, lack of protective equipment adapted to tropical conditions, nonexistent first-aid provisions. Agricultural extension is often not oriented to the transfer of information relative to the dangers inherent in the use of pesticides. The lack of information at all levels may be one of the most important causative factors of chemical intoxication in developing countries. Research should at this time concentrate on behaviors leading to chemical intoxication. This should be done concurrently with proper prospective and retrospective surveys of poisonings in developing country communities. More information should be sought relative to the decision processes of import, legislation, and licensing. Research and development efforts in appropriate technology and safety devices are also critically needed.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carbamates
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors
  • Climate
  • Developing Countries*
  • Herbicides / chemistry
  • Herbicides / poisoning
  • Humans
  • Insecticides / chemistry
  • Insecticides / poisoning
  • Organophosphorus Compounds
  • Pesticides / chemistry
  • Pesticides / poisoning*
  • Pyrethrins / chemistry
  • Pyrethrins / poisoning
  • Risk Factors


  • Carbamates
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors
  • Herbicides
  • Insecticides
  • Organophosphorus Compounds
  • Pesticides
  • Pyrethrins