Objectives: Exposure to pesticides in fruit growing was estimated by pesticide experts, occupational hygienists, and fruit growing experts to determine whether valid subjective assessments can be made by experts. The study objectives were (i) validation of exposure assessment by experts using different sources of information, (ii) assessment of interrater agreement, (iii) measurement of agreement between experts' assessments and actual quantitative exposure data.
Methods: Three groups with different expertise made four ratings. Three of the ratings were made in three phases in which exposure information was provided.
Results: The intraclass correlation was high for each subgroup of experts when tasks in fruit growing were relatively ranked by increasing exposure level. In general, the interrater agreement on factors influencing the internal dose decreased when more information on exposure was provided. Experts correctly considered dermal exposure as the prominent contributor to internal dose. Results were comparable for the three pesticides under study. The ranking of 15 specific sprayings with a fungicide clearly showed differences between raters according to their expertise. The pesticide experts and occupational hygienists were able to rank daily exposure levels during pesticide spraying in a meaningful way.
Conclusions: Experts seem to recognize the most important determinants of external exposure and therefore should be able pay a role in evaluating the effectiveness of control measures taken to reduce external exposure and to determine exposure groups in epidemiologic studies. The expert panel should not be too small, and consensus or average estimates should be used because differences within expert groups can be considerable.