Acute Pesticide Poisoning in South Korea

by Kahea Kanuha

Occupational pesticide poisoning is a big health problem among agricultural workers, but there have been few studies on the differences, if any, in risk factors related to severity of pesticide poisoning. Kim et al. (2013) interviewed 1,958 male farmers in South Korea to explore work-related risk factors related to acute occupational pesticide poisoning according to the severity of the poisoning. It was found that the risk of acute occupational pesticide poisoning increased with total days of pesticide application, working on larger farms, not wearing personal protective equipment such as gloves or masks, not following pesticide label instructions, applying the pesticide in full sun, and applying the pesticide upwind.

A nationwide sampling survey of male farmers in South Korea was conducted in 2011 by Kim et al. who interviewed 1958 households. Twenty one symptoms of acute pesticide poisoning were selected. Acute occupational pesticide poisoning was defined as a respondent considering himself to have suffered any of these symptoms within 48 hours of pesticide use in 2010. Severe cases of pesticide poisoning were defined as those including symptoms of paralysis or loss of consciousness, while moderate cases were defined as symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, blurred vision, loss of sensation, slurred speech, and chest pain. The remaining cases were classified as mild.

First the demographics between poisoned and non-poisoned male farmers were compared. Younger age groups had a higher risk of pesticide poisoning, which was possibly because younger farmers engage in more outdoor work than do older farmers. Risk of poisoning increased with annual income and education level. A larger annual income may imply large farm size, which would thus require more frequent or larger amounts of pesticide application. Other demographic factors showed no statistically significant association with acute occupational pesticide poisoning.

The severity of poisoning was evaluated according to symptoms, types of treatment, and number of pesticide poisoning incidents per individual. According to symptom severity, lifetime days of pesticide application, working on a larger farm, and not wearing personal protective equipment such as gloves, pants, boots, and masks were significantly associated with both mild and moderate/severe poisoning groups. The increased risk of poisoning by farm size was likely due to more frequent applications and longer application times. The hands have been reported to be the body part most exposed to pesticides in most cases and highly volatile pesticides are easily inhaled by workers, making the use of gloves and masks especially important when applying pesticides.

“Inappropriate safety behavior” associated with mild and moderate/severe poisoning groups included not following label instructions and applying pesticides upwind. Unsafe behaviors that did not have a statistically significant correlation with pesticide poisoning included not wearing masks and gloves when mixing pesticides, applying pesticides in full sun, not changing clothes immediately after pesticide application, and not bathing with soap after pesticide application.

Previously, orchardists and greenhouse farmers were reported to have an increased risk of pesticide poisoning in South Korea. For this study, interviewees were split into five types of farming: rice, vegetable, greenhouse, fruit, and mixed and other. There was no significant acute pesticide poisoning risk difference by type of farming. The application method was also not significantly related to the risk of occupational pesticide poisoning.

The factors did not show a significant difference by pesticide poisoning severity, suggesting that they may not contribute to pesticide poisoning development in a dose-dependent manner. Prevention strategies for minimizing occupational pesticide poisoning should focus on reducing the number of pesticide applications, enforcing the use of personal protective equipment, and following recommended safety behaviors.

Kim, JH., Kim, J., Cha, E., Ko, Y., Kim, D., Lee, W. 2013. Work-related risk factors by severity for acute pesticide poisoning among male farmers in South Korea. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 10, 1100–1112.


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