In studies in developing countries, closed systems for mechanically mixing and loading hazardous pesticides have been shown to reduce exposure to workers. To evaluate the efficacy of closed systems in preventing worker exposure in the developing world, a cross sectional study was conducted at rural crop dusting airports in the cotton growing region of Nicaragua. Worker exposure was evaluated by measuring the activity of erythrocyte cholinesterase in the field with a new design battery operated colorimeter. The 10 mixer loaders at four airstrips with closed systems were compared with the 16 mixer loaders at four airstrips where pesticides were hand poured. Paradoxically, cholinesterase activity was 1.1 IU/ml blood (95% Cl 0.49-1.8) lower (inhibited) among workers in airstrips with closed systems than among workers hand pouring insecticides, after adjusting for weight of organophosphates sprayed in the past 14 days, and for prior training in safe use of pesticides. Mixer loaders with prior training had cholinesterase activity 0.83 IU (95% Cl 0.30-1.4) higher than untrained workers, and the weight of organophosphates sprayed was also a statistically significant predictor in the model. Unfortunately, management viewed the closed systems primarily as a production tool, rather than as a way to protect workers. Airstrips with closed systems were able to apply an average of 3250 lb organophosphates per worker in the 14 days before the survey compared with 849 lb per worker in airstrips without closed systems. Only three of 10 mixer-loaders at airstrips with closed systems had received formal training in safer use of pesticides. Because of shortage of personnel and transport, it was difficult for the responsible government agencies to train workers adequately and to enforce pesticide health and safety standards at multiple dispersed worksites.
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