Dangerous occupational pesticide exposure in Texa

No one can argue that sometimes people and pests just do not mix safely. Sometimes the dangers of pests require that we somehow prevent them from being in contact with us, our foods, our pets, our homes, our schools and our businesses.

While there are less intrusive ways to do so, we often resort to pesticides to do this. Pesticides are chemically based products pervasively used throughout our society to kill or repel harmful or nuisance pests - from tiny microorganisms to insects to rodents.

Not surprisingly, considering that pesticides only exist to harm other kinds of life, people can be injured at work by exposure to harmful pesticides. Dangerous contact can occur inside or outside, unknowingly or knowingly, but usually when proper directions, necessary information, protective clothing or safety equipment are lacking.

Exposure can happen when liquids or vapors come into contact with skin or moist membranes in the mouth or eyes; when fumes, dust or vapors are inhaled; when work clothing is worn into the home; when protective clothing is washed with street clothing and in countless other ways.

The PEST program

The potential for workplace pesticide exposure in a state as huge and diverse as Texas is immense and Texas is one of a handful of states with an official program that methodically monitors occupational pesticide exposure. With funding from federal agencies, the Texas Department of State Health Services, or DSHS, runs the Pesticide Exposure Surveillance in Texas Program, known as PEST, that since 1988 has monitored worker pesticide poisoning, tried to understand exposure trends, conducted exposure investigations, and promoted pesticide-exposure education and information sharing in the attempt to prevent future exposures.

Texas law mandates that medical professionals and labs report "work-related pesticide poisonings" to PEST when workers report or present for treatment with symptoms of acute pesticide exposure. PEST also gathers exposure data from Texas poison control centers, workers' compensation reports and other agencies.

The facts

Examples of the types of workers who could be dangerously exposed to pesticides include:

  • Farmers and agricultural workers
  • Fumigators and exterminators
  • Hotel and restaurant workers
  • Ground applicators
  • Janitors
  • Hospital workers
  • Laundry employers
  • Veterinarians and their employees
  • Retail employees
  • First responders
  • Employees of pesticide manufacturers, shippers, storage facilities and sellers

Symptoms that could indicate a harmful exposure has occurred include difficult breathing; nausea, cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, incontinence, dizziness and sweating; rash; small pupils and vision problems; runny nose and eyes; numbness; drooling; headache; anxiety and tremor; blue skin; and seizures. In extreme cases, the victim may go into a coma or experience death.

Anyone who knows he or she has been exposed to a pesticide exposure, or who experiences these symptoms and may have been unknowingly exposed should seek immediate first aid, decontamination and emergency medical care.

Legal remedies

Employer use of pesticides is heavily regulated by federal and state law, including specific labeling requirements and provision to workers of safety training, equipment and clothing.

Workers injured by pesticides at work should file for workers' compensation benefits, which are normally paid regardless of whether the employers were at fault. If an employer is not covered by work comp, it can be sued directly. This area of the law is complex, and an experienced personal injury attorney should be consulted to help determine the extent of legal remedies available to an employee injured by pesticide exposure, including any potential lawsuits outside of the workers' compensation system.