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A review of agricultural pesticide incidents in man in England and Wales, 1952-71
  1. C. E. D. Hearn1
  1. aFisons Limited, Agrochemical Division, Cambridge


    Hearn, C. E. D. (1973).British Journal of Industrial Medicine,30, 253-258. A review of agricultural pesticide incidents in man in England and Wales, 1952-71. An analysis was carried out of the poisoning incidents attributed to pesticides in England and Wales investigated by the Safety Inspectorate of the Pesticides Branch of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food from 1952 to 1971. All poisoning incidents attributed to pesticides which are reported to the Safety Inspectorate are recorded and separated into reported and confirmed incidents. The confirmed incidents are classified into fatal and non-fatal. The non-fatal incidents are subdivided into four categories, systemic poisoning, eye injuries, dermatitis, and chemical burns.

    There were nine fatal cases of poisoning due to pesticides between 1952 and 1971, of which only three were occupational in origin. The remaining six were non-occupational but were investigated by the Safety Inspectorate only because the incident happened to arise on, or in connection with, a farm. The details of all the cases are recorded.

    There were 222 non-fatal confirmed incidents during the period, affecting a total of 296 persons. There has been an increased frequency of incidents since 1966 largely attributable to more complete and comprehensive recording by the Safety Inspectorate.

    Out of a total of 250 recorded pesticide effects, 121 (48·5%) were systemic poisoning, 57 (22·8%) were eye injuries, 54 (21·6%) were dermatitis, and 18 (7·1%) were chemical burns. Of the 121 incidents of non-fatal systemic poisoning, usually of a mild character, 34 were due to organophosphates, 26 to a single incident involving chloropicrin, 15 to arsenites, eight to dinitro compounds, three to nicotine, two to fungicides, one to cyanide, and one to an organomercury compound. Thirty-one incidents were not classified because the symptoms were non-specific in character and the worker had been exposed to a large number of different chemicals. In some instances the relationship of the symptoms to previous exposure to pesticides was extremely uncertain. Eye injuries and dermatitis were attributable to a wide variety of different chemicals and in the majority of instances were mild. Sulphuric acid, used for potato haulm destruction, was the commonest recorded cause of chemical burns.

    The main problems in the use of pesticides in England and Wales today are (1) the illicit decanting of concentrate from the manufacturer's labelled containers, (2) the hoarding of incompletely used containers, (3) the disposal of empty containers, and (4) the importation of pesticides in inadequately labelled containers.

    These defined practical problems of safety in application and accident control are perhaps of greater importance than the long-term theoretical toxicological effects of pesticides which may be attracting too much attention today.

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    • 1 Present address: Gillette International, London.