Pesticide exposure and subjective symptoms of cut-flower farmers

J Rural Med. 2017 May;12(1):7-11. doi: 10.2185/jrm.2922. Epub 2017 May 24.


Sales of cut-flowers depend much on the outer appearance of the flowers. They are not intended to be used as foodstuffs; thus, pesticides are used more liberally for cut flower growing than for other agricultural products. Flower production is often carried out in greenhouses; therefore, pesticide exposure seems to reach not only the person spraying the pesticides, but also the non-spraying workers as well. In 2009, a special research project on pesticide poisoning, affiliated with the Japanese Association of Rural Medicine, developed a study that focused on cut-flower farmers' exposure to pesticide, subsequent adverse symptoms experienced, and treatment modalities to relieve pesticide-related symptoms. In this group of farmers, the pesticide sprayers were almost entirely male, while the females did not do any spraying. The organophosphate metabolite level in the urine of the males was higher than that of the females. However, in the female group, a positive relation was found between average working times in the greenhouse, and urine concentration of dialkylphosphates. In 2 males of this group, the level of dimethylphosphate was detected at 1,000 times the median level. Their butyrylcholinesterase activity levels on the day of testing had declined to 64%, 72% of their average level of the proximate 4 years, respectively. Communication with these subjects regarding pesticide exposure and methods of prevention appeared to be an effective approach for reducing symptom severity. Among soil fumigants, chloropicrin and 1,3-dichloropropene were most often used. Difficulty breathing was one of the subjective symptoms associated with chloropicrin, as well as watery eyes, coughing, and runny nose. These symptoms were effectively suppressed by the preventative practice of wearing gas masks and goggles while using soil fumigants. It would be beneficial to strongly encourage use of suitable protective gear among farmers exposed to soil fumigants.

Keywords: cholinesterase activity; cut-flower farmer; organophosphorus insecticide; risk communication; soil fumigant.

Publication types

  • Review