Perspectives Online

College team works to ensure farmworkers stay healthy when dealing with pesticides

From left are Dr. Greg Cope, Environmental and Molecular Toxicology Department; Catherine LePrevost, project coordinator; and Dr. Wayne Buhler, Extension specialist, Horticultural Science Department. Cope and Buhler are listening to LePrevost's presentation of the bilingual pesticide safety training project.

A College of Agriculture and Life Sciences team is working to make crop fields safer for Spanish-speaking laborers through bilingual pesticide safety training.

Dr. Greg Cope, Julia Storm and Catherine LePrevost of the College’s Environmental and Molecular Toxicology Department are developing “Pesticides and Farmworker Health:  A Toolkit to Enhance Pesticide Safety Training for Hispanic/Latino Workers.” The three-year project is funded by a $223,785 NC Pesticide Board Pesticide Environmental Trust Fund grant.

Cope is associate professor, department Extension leader and N.C. State University agromedicine coordinator; Storm is an agromedicine information specialist, and LePrevost is a doctoral candidate and project coordinator.

LePrevost and Buhler discuss warning notices.
“The project is necessary and timely for several reasons,” says Cope. “Pesticide products and their use in agricultural practice have changed since our original series was developed. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is evaluating changes to the Worker Protection Standard involving hazard communication, and relevant stakeholders have expressed the need for effective pesticide safety training resources for farmworkers to augment the crop sheets.”

Says Storm, “We are developing innovative materials for crop-specific pesticide safety training for Latino farmworkers based on the latest research in hazard recognition and hazard communication as well as our own product development testing. The product we are developing is more visual and comprehensive than existing crop sheets in our state and others and addresses preferences expressed by farmworkers.”

Based on the success of their 1998-2003 bilingual publication series, “Pesticides and Human Health” -- which covered tobacco, green peppers, cucumbers, Christmas trees, sweet potatoes, apples, tomatoes and grapes -- the team decided to enhance farm worker pesticide safety training by developing the toolkit.

    The toolkit includes:
  • updated, improved, culturally appropriate, illustrated, low-literacy crop sheets and posters in Spanish and English that include information about toxicity signal words printed on pesticide labels, such as “caution,” warning” and “danger”;
  • information on restricted entry intervals, or the time period, based on a pesticide’s toxicity, during which workers can’t enter a pesticide-treated area;
  • symptoms of acute health effects for pesticides most commonly used in many hand-labor-intensive crops in North Carolina;
  • lesson plans for Extension and outreach educators, including a set of interactive activities from which trainers can choose to reinforce lesson learning objectives and assess most appropriate learning for a low-literacy audience with lower levels of formal education;
  • a color flip chart with crop-specific images and scenarios for each crop that provides trainers with appropriate questions for engaging workers while displaying visual cues:
  • references to more training resources.
“Because this is a low-literacy population and a Latino audience, traditional lecture methods such as PowerPoint presentations are less appropriate,” says LePrevost.

“We are developing resources and educational tools based on basic and adult education principles and culturally appropriate design,” she says. “For adults, lessons should validate learners' knowledge and experiences by providing opportunities to contribute these aspects to the training. So the lesson takes on a guided discussion format in which the trainer engages farmworkers in a conversation about pesticide safety. ”

Assisting the team are Cintia Aguilar, Cooperative Extension’s Latino Affairs facilitator; Cesar Asuaje, bilingual farm safety educator, University of Florida Cooperative Extension, who also collaborated on farmworker focus groups; and N.C. Farmworker Health Program consultants from the state Health and Human Services Department. The team field tested toolkit prototypes with 25 farmworkers through focused small-group discussions to assess learning and preferences.

The team also consults with crop specialists for current use information for commonly used pesticides for each crop in the series. College consultants for the tobacco crop sheet in progress include Dr. Clyde Sorenson, entomology professor; Dr. Loren Fisher, associate professor and extension crop science specialist; and Dr. Asimina Mila, assistant professor and extension tobacco specialist.

The team will later include crops covered in their previous series -- tobacco, Christmas trees, sweet potatoes, green peppers, apples, cucumbers, tomatoes and grapes -- and several new ones: blueberries, landscape horticulture and strawberries.

“Some of these crops, like tomatoes, blueberries and strawberries, have a greater proportion of female workers,” notes LePrevost. “To be sure the established prototype effectively communicates information to both men and women, we’ll begin field testing the materials with a group of women working in tomatoes in 2009.”

—Art Latham