Protect Yourself with Integrated Pest Management

If there is one thing that hasn’t changed through the centuries, it’s the battle between pests and farmers. Stories of whole crops being decimated in the blink of eye are recorded in every culture.

Today, there are incredible resources to help with this age-old problem, including one housed right here in Davis – the University of California Integrated Pest Management (UC IPM) program. IPM provides scientifically based information on how to effectively deal with pests whether they are natural or exotic or in urban, agricultural, wildland or natural areas.

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Dr. Jim Farrar, director of UC IPM, recently visited WCAHS and gave a seminar talk on “IPM and Agricultural Worker Safety.” Pesticides are extensively used in farming. In 2014 alone, California registered 2.5 million pesticide applications. Agricultural workers are especially vulnerable to getting exposed to pesticides when directly handling them, such as during mixing or spraying, and when walking through fields and encountering pesticide drift in the air and residue on plants.

UC IPM provides both online and instructor led courses on the newest advances in pest management as well as basic safety skills with pesticides. Farrar stressed that continuing pesticide safety education is key to protecting agricultural workers and their families from harm. For example, workers can learn how to correctly use personal protective equipment when applying pesticides to avoid exposure and why it is important to wash work clothes separately from household clothes.

IPM also provides online information on how to deal with common pests found in the home, on our pets and even on us! For example, IPM has advice on managing ants, rats, lice and fleas. Farrar emphasized that while it is often difficult to eliminate pests 100%, they can be actively managed and controlled with the PAMS approach:

             Prevent pests from infesting.

             Avoid conditions that are conducive to pest damage.

             Monitor for pests and properly identify them.

             Suppress pests with appropriate tactics.

The PAMS approach works because it takes the long-term view of controlling pests. You can find detailed tips on how to manage all types of pests at the UC-IPM website.

How healthy is your California neighborhood?

You can easily find out using CalEnviroScreen, an online environmental health screening tool that scores each of the state’s 8000 census tracks for pollution burden and population characteristics.

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Gina Solomon, Deputy Secretary for Science and Health, Cal EPA

Gina Solomon, Deputy Secretary for Science and Health at the California EPA, was a recent WCAHS seminar speaker and  explained that each California census tract has been scored for pollution burden and population indicators of environmental health. Pollution indicators include ozone, particulate matter, diesel, drinking water, pesticides, toxic releases, traffic, cleanups, and groundwater. Population characteristics include age, asthma, low birth weight, low education, linguistic isolation, poverty, and unemployment.

To see how your census track is doing,  click on the pollution burden or population characteristic map, find the particular census track you are interested in, and then click on an individual pollution indicator or population characteristic tab. Each census track is color coded. Darker colors indicate a greater score and relatively higher pollution burden / population vulnerability than areas with lighter colors and lower scores. For example, the pesticide burden for the City of Monterey is much less (light color) than the area surrounding the City of Salinas (dark color), which is heavily farmed and famous for fruits and vegetables.

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CalEnviroScreen was created to help implement a state law (SB 535) requiring 25% of  proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade auctions be invested in projects that benefit disadvantaged communities, including 10% for projects located within these areas. Thus, CalEnviroScreen allows the state to identify California communities with the greatest cumulative exposure to pollution and send state resources to those who need it most.

Lucky for us, CalEnviroScreen is also a great resource for public health researchers interested in a specific problem or location or how multiple environmental stressors affect a community. Dr. Solomon pointed out that many of California’s most disadvantaged communities are in rural, agricultural areas, and CalEnviroScreen can provide WCAHS researchers with a wealth of information.

Alifia Merchant: Determining Pesticide Exposure with Antibodies and 96 Tiny Wells

Alifia croppedBy Alifia Merchant

Agriculture and landscape workers apply pesticides as part of their work. Pesticides benefit us by protecting plants from harmful insects, but they can be poisonous if used carelessly.

Workers need to know how to safely use pesticides, such as by wearing gloves and long pants and washing their hands immediately afterwards. In California, many agriculture and landscape workers have a limited understanding of English and may not be able to read the instructions on how to apply pesticides safely. On the other hand, they may not have formal training through their employment, especially if their business is freelance. Even with trained workers, mistakes can be made.

My goal as a graduate student in the Agricultural and Environmental Chemistry Graduate Group at UC Davis is to help better protect agriculture and landscape workers from harmful pesticide exposure. I am working with Drs. Debbie Bennett and Bruce Hammock, Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (WCAHS) investigators, to develop quick and easy methods to determine if a worker has been exposed to pesticides.

Alifia blog photo copyI will interview agriculture and landscape workers to gain information about their jobs and possible pesticide exposure. Then, I will collect urine samples on days that they have sprayed or otherwise been exposed to pesticides.

Why am I collecting urine? When chemicals enter the body they can be metabolized, meaning that their chemical structure changes. After metabolism, the chemical can leave the body through urine. Different chemicals remain in the body for varying amounts of time, but the pesticides that I am studying are present in urine within several hours after exposure.

I will determine pesticide exposure using a method called enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay or ELISA for short. Each ELISA test involves a plate with 96 tiny wells with specific antibodies added to the wells. Each antibody detects a specific pesticide.

Urine will be added to the wells. If a well contains urine with pesticiELISAde metabolites, the well turns light yellow or clear. If the urine does not contain pesticide metabolites, the well turns a bright yellow color. Thus, the color of the well allows us to know if a person has been exposed to a pesticide and to what degree.

In the future, we see using the ELISA to quickly know if someone has been unsafely exposed to a pesticide and needs medical help. It could also be used to train workers; if the ELISA shows that a worker was unsafely exposed to pesticides after applying them, the worker would be informed about their results and receive recommendations about how to better protect themselves while doing their job.

For information on how to safely use pesticides at work and home, check out The Pesticide Safety Project website and videos in both English and Spanish, produced by WCAHS in collaboration with the California Poison Control System, and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

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Portable Test for Pesticide Exposure in the Field

WCAHS member ImageDistinguished Professor Bruce Hammock, a member of the National Academy of Science, and his lab are developing a portable pesticide test that can be run on location to quickly and cost effectively detect if agricultural or landscape workers have been exposed to pesticides.

The test is similar to a dipstick pregnancy test in that it is based on an immunoassay of a urine sample.  Immunoassays have been used in medicine for more than 50 years to determine the state of a person’s health. They work by using an antibody to detect the presence of a specific compound in a solution. A pigment molecule, such as a line across a home pregnancy urine test, indicates that the compound is present.

Dr. Hammock’s lab had developed unique antibodies from camelids (llamas, alpaca) have been designed to detect 3-phenoxybenzoic acid (3-PBA), a major breakdown product of certain pyrethroid insecticides used to control insects in crops and around the home. The same technology is being developed by the Hammock lab for the herbicide, paraquat, which is still used widely as an alternative to glyphosate-resistant weeds. Benefits of the pesticide immunoassay include being heat stable, very sensitive, and reproducible.

The primary purpose of the immunoassay is to improve agricultural and landscape worker safety.  It is envisioned that public health officials or workers use the assay to evaluate application methods and make changes if their pesticide exposure is too high.  Additionally, the test could be used for farm worker families who live in close proximity to agricultural fields and who are often faced with poor housing conditions, causing higher pest infestation and more indoor pesticide use.

WCAHS, together with the other 9 NIOSH funded U.S. Agricultural Safety and Health Centers, have launched a YouTube channel with safety videos, including 14 on pesticide safety.