Joelyn Yap
Joelyn Yap April 08, 2019

Safeguarding against the long-term effects of agricultural chemical exposure

Some workplace environments inherently expose workers to a greater number of safety risks than others. One such example is the wide-ranging threat from exposure to agricultural chemicals which, despite the name, are not limited to farming or pure agriculture environments.

An umbrella term, the word ‘agricultural chemicals’ encompasses a diverse range of substances that are available in many concentrations and forms including liquids, powders granules and pellets. The relative efficacy of agricultural chemicals is a double-edged sword — the same characteristics that ensure effectiveness in the eradication of pests also pose a significant threat to human health if suitable precautions to limit exposure are not implemented. Exposure to these chemicals can occur in many ways. Obvious scenarios include treatment of animals, crops, plants and grain stores in agricultural or livestock production settings, but other known risk environments include forestry, gardening, professional (or domestic) pest control, or exposure through the spraying of public parks, pavements and playgrounds. Any process that employs fumigation for parasite management, such as cross-border biosecurity, also leaves workers open to exposure.

Less is known about long-term effects, though some studies have linked even low levels of toxicity acquired through repeated or continuous contact with the development of a frightening array of conditions. These may include everything from nervous system disorders (such as Parkinson’s disease), through to cancers (including leukaemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma), chronic lung conditions (like asthma) and immune or endocrine system disruptions. Some studies also suggest exposure can contribute to mental health conditions including anxiety and depression, as well as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).