Environmental Exposures and Health Agricultural Workers

Throughout the world, agricultural workers encounter an amazing number and variety of environmental exposures to hazards that are both anthropogenic and natural. From plant dust to mosquito borne disease; from soil and water borne pathogens to pesticide and ticks; from excessive cold to excessive heat:  agricultural workers are on the front lines of environmental hazards that would shock anyone who thinks that the country, forest, or ocean life is free of environmental hazards.

Organic plant dusts and molds cause inhalation injury to the lung, resulting in elevated cases of  lung inflammation reactions such as asthma, bronchitis and bronchiolitis. Lung tissue can react with alveolitis, pulmonary edema and pulmonary fibrosis.Byssinossis, for example, is a respiratory disease that is associated with more than half of cotton plant workers in the US, Egypt, Pakistan, Western Europe and Russia. Vegetable dusts are associated with chronic bronchitis from working at dusted workstations.

There are noxious gases, such as nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, carbon dioxide and methane that are either generated during animal husbandry or by humans in lots of agricultural functions.

Noise everything from many animals in confined spaces to heavy equipment or mechanical processors provides hazards to hearing, and skin cancers from overexposure to the sun are common threats.

Pesticide exposure, especially with organophosphates, has famously been linked with Oxidative Stress and DNA damage, along with neurological and cancerous diseases. Organochlorine and carbomate pesticides are used to control disease and pests in India. The organochlorines accumulate in the food chain and the environment. Cardiovascular disorders, hypertension and respiratory problems are being studied in relation to Carbomates and organochlorines.

Heat and cold are natural environmental factors that interface with pressure to meet fishing and harvesting schedules in all agricultural functions where there are prolonged exposures to temperatures that can rise or lower to harmful levels very quickly. These exposures result in illness and deaths every year

As agricultural workers are exposed to nature, they are exposed to the soil, insect and animal borne pathogens.The bird/swine/human influenza pathways, alone are cause for far more interest these days. But all animals have their pathogens to contribute, and even the water and soil contains pathogens. The soil is getting more interest these days as a source of pathogens that wind up on and in food that has sickened many.

Tick borne diseases are an issue for certain agricultural workers. Borrelia burgdorferi (the cause of Lyme disease) and viral enchephalitis are tick borne diseases that constitute natural biological hazards for agricultural and forest workers. In the US alone, over 11 diseases are related to ticks. Most of the exposures are regional, but Q fever is found in all parts of the nation. Since most timber and agricultural harvests occur during June to August, the tick exposure is at the maximum.

Finally, there are the mosquito and feral animal borne diseases, such as Malaria, West Nile fever and rabies. Then, there is the threat of feral or wild animal attacks that make life and work in the forests, oceans and farms a lot more serious than many can imagine.

Air And Breathing, “Rural Lung Diseases”

National Ag Safety Database, “Preventing Cold Related Illnesses In Agricultural Workers”

Byssinossis in Mushroom Workers

NIOSH, “Tick Borne Diseases”

National Ag Safety Database “Health Hazards In Agriculture – An Emerging Issue”

“Farming Pathogens”