are more likely than studies of other groups to reveal relationships between health and exposure. Until recently the prevailing view has been that health studies of farm workers are very difficult to conduct because farm workers move often and are not generally interested in cooperating in studies. That view has been demonstrated to be inaccurate (e.g., Kamel et al. 1998). Some farm workers do move a lot, but others have home bases. Language barriers and concern over deportation are certainly issues,but it has been shown that these barriers can be overcome with appropriate use of camp aids by researchers who are sensitive to cultural issues.
Epidemiological studies conducted over the last 20 years point to some associations between particular pesticides and specific types of cancer (Zahm and Ward 1998) and subclinical neurological effects (Keifer and Mahurin 1997), but these studies have been limited in scope and technique. Most of the studies have focused on cancer incidence, have used case-control methods, and have been limited to small study populations. Recently initiated programs, such as the Agricultural Health Study (Alavanja et al. 1996)—which is being conducted cooperatively by the National Cancer Institute, EPA, the National Institute of Environmental Health and Safety, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)—are taking a more rigorous approach to the chronic health impacts of pesticides. The major results of these studies will not be available for many years and might not be able to point to specific pesticides that influence worker health. Nonetheless, the Agricultural Health Study is likely to produce important findings.
Some data exist on rates of acute, accidental pesticide poisonings, but problems with bias in reporting make it hard to estimate the true frequency of accidental poisonings (Arne 1997, Blondell, 1997). EPA and many farmworker advocacy groups view recent levels of such poisonings as unacceptable (EPA 1992, Davis and Schleifer 1998, Columbia Legal Services 1998).
In 1972, FIFRA was amended to broaden federal pesticide regulatory authority. EPA was given authority to ensure that registered pesticides were not used in a manner inconsistent with instructions on their pesticide labels. In 1974, EPA promulgated regulations under the title “Worker Protection Standards for Agricultural Pesticides” (40 CFR part 170). The regulations included
Prohibition against spraying workers and other people
Prohibition against reentry into a sprayed field before the pesticide had dried or dusts had settled, and a longer reentry period for 12 specific compounds