Posted on March 12th, 2021
Pesticide exposure is linked to many health issues, including but not limited to reproductive problems, diabetes, cancer, and neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease. Unfortunately, too many employees in the agriculture sector, including tank fillers, are regularly exposed to highly toxic pesticides, such as paraquat.
Paraquat has been used for decades to control weeds and invasive grasses for more than 100 crops - the most common being corn, soybeans, cotton, and vineyard grapes, among others.
Certain farm pesticide use activities are riskier than others; for example, pouring an undiluted pesticide into the spray tank is riskier than walking into the treated field to scout for insects. Exposure to the concentrate is more likely to cause personal health effects than contact with the treated crop.
The lack of adequate personal protective equipment leads to increased absorption of pesticides into the body. The route of entry into the body also impacts the toxic effect. There are three main routes of human exposure to pesticides:
Tank fillers are those persons who directly handle pesticides, e.g., perform tasks in the application of the pesticide operating a knapsack and spraying the pesticide unto the crop. They are at especially high risk of coming into direct contact with paraquat - the non-selective herbicide widely used in commercial farming.
Initially targeted for use in various weed control programs, paraquat is being used more widely on preventing planting acres, as a burndown, especially before soybeans, and as a harvest aid, particularly in legume crops.
Over the past two decades, researchers have stepped up their examination of the effects of paraquat exposure on humans, and specifically the risk of Parkinson's disease. The way paraquat works is to produce intracellular molecules that damage cells by causing oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction.
Many epidemiological studies concluded that Parkinson's disease is strongly associated with paraquat exposure. As a tank filler, you are most likely to be dangerously exposed to paraquat when mixing since handling the concentrated form is highly hazardous:
The level of risk associated with handling paraquat concentrates is lessened if the tank filler wears a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, and goggles. In addition, using a transfer hose to move the pesticide directly from the container to the application equipment is a significantly safer procedure than pouring.