An algorithm for quantitatively estimating non-occupational pesticide exposure intensity for spouses in the Agricultural Health Study

J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2019 Apr;29(3):344-357. doi: 10.1038/s41370-018-0088-z. Epub 2018 Oct 30.


Residents of agricultural areas experience pesticide exposures from sources other than direct agricultural work. We developed a quantitative, active ingredient-specific algorithm for cumulative (adult, married lifetime) non-occupational pesticide exposure intensity for spouses of farmers who applied pesticides in the Agricultural Health Study (AHS). The algorithm addressed three exposure pathways: take-home, agricultural drift, and residential pesticide use. Pathway-specific equations combined (i) weights derived from previous meta-analyses of published pesticide exposure data and (ii) information from the questionnaire on frequency and duration of pesticide use by applicators, home proximity to treated fields, residential pesticide usage (e.g., termite treatments), and spouse's off-farm employment (proxy for time at home). The residential use equation also incorporated a published probability matrix that documented the likelihood active ingredients were used in home pest treatment products. We illustrate use of these equations by calculating exposure intensities for the insecticide chlorpyrifos and herbicide atrazine for 19,959 spouses. Non-zero estimates for ≥1 pathway were found for 78% and 77% of spouses for chlorpyrifos and atrazine, respectively. Variability in exposed spouses' intensity estimates was observed for both pesticides, with 75th to 25th percentile ratios ranging from 7.1 to 7.3 for take-home, 6.5 to 8.5 for drift, 2.4 to 2.8 for residential use, and 3.8 to 7.0 for the summed pathways. Take-home and drift estimates were highly correlated (≥0.98), but were not correlated with residential use (0.01‒0.02). This algorithm represents an important advancement in quantifying non-occupational pesticide relative exposure differences and will facilitate improved etiologic analyses in the AHS spouses. The algorithm could be adapted to studies with similar information.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Agriculture*
  • Algorithms*
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Farmers
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pesticides / analysis*
  • Spouses*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Pesticides