A review of nonoccupational pathways for pesticide exposure in women living in agricultural areas

Environ Health Perspect. 2015 Jun;123(6):515-24. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1408273. Epub 2015 Jan 30.


Background: Women living in agricultural areas may experience high pesticide exposures compared with women in urban or suburban areas because of their proximity to farm activities.

Objective: Our objective was to review the evidence in the published literature for the contribution of nonoccupational pathways of pesticide exposure in women living in North American agricultural areas.

Methods: We evaluated the following nonoccupational exposure pathways: paraoccupational (i.e., take-home or bystander exposure), agricultural drift, residential pesticide use, and dietary ingestion. We also evaluated the role of hygiene factors (e.g., house cleaning, shoe removal).

Results: Among 35 publications identified (published 1995-2013), several reported significant or suggestive (p < 0.1) associations between paraoccupational (n = 19) and agricultural drift (n = 10) pathways and pesticide dust or biomarker levels, and 3 observed that residential use was associated with pesticide concentrations in dust. The 4 studies related to ingestion reported low detection rates of most pesticides in water; additional studies are needed to draw conclusions about the importance of this pathway. Hygiene factors were not consistently linked to exposure among the 18 relevant publications identified.

Conclusions: Evidence supported the importance of paraoccupational, drift, and residential use pathways. Disentangling exposure pathways was difficult because agricultural populations are concurrently exposed to pesticides via multiple pathways. Most evidence was based on measurements of pesticides in residential dust, which are applicable to any household member and are not specific to women. An improved understanding of nonoccupational pesticide exposure pathways in women living in agricultural areas is critical for studying health effects in women and for designing effective exposure-reduction strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • North America
  • Pesticides / metabolism*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Pesticides