Pesticide drift is the unintended airborne movement of pesticides away from a target application site as spray, vapor, odor, or dust. As numbers of fruit and vegetable farms have increased in Iowa, the issue of pesticide drift has become an important topic. Pesticide drift can negatively affect sensitive crops and growers may be concerned about negative health effects of drift exposure.
If you or your workers are in the fields when a drift incident occurs, leave the area as quickly as possible. Remove any contaminated clothing and wash exposed skin. Though the majority of illnesses that result from drift are of low-severity and resolve without medical attention, seek emergency care for any of the following symptoms: extreme nausea or vomiting, muscle aches, tremors or twitching, dizziness or disorientation, difficulty breathing.
After immediate medical needs have been addressed, contact the following:
Ph: 800-222-1222, Statewide Poison Control Center hotline for further treatment information
Ph: 800-972-2026, Iowa Department of Public Health to report pesticide exposure
Ph: 515-232-5661, Pesticide Bureau at Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship
If possible, contact applicator to learn what pesticides were sprayed. Obtain label information online to ascertain any further human health effects and safe duration prior to field re-entry (Restricted Entry Interval).
Who is at risk?
In an 11-state study analyzing drift exposures over an eight year period, researchers found that farm workers were at greatest risk for illness from off-target pesticide drift. The majority of exposed workers (92%) reported only mild illness; however, most cases (66%) were exposed to high toxicity chemicals. More than half of the cases experienced ocular (58%) or neurological (53%) symptoms. Women and older people were significantly more likely to experience moderate/high severity illness.
In Iowa between 2008 and 2012, off-target pesticide drift accounted for fewer than 20 cases (of 331 total reports). The majority of these (82%) resulted in “low severity” illness (low severity is defined as: some health reactions to the skin, eye, or respiratory tract. Typically the illness resolved without medical treatment).
What Chemicals have I been exposed to?
The most common classes of pesticides used in Iowa are herbicides. Follow the links below for more information about the acute toxicity of common chemicals in Iowa agriculture and the Restricted Re-entry Interval for each. Acute toxicity refers to the effects from a single dose or exposure over a short time.
- National Pesticide Information Center Active Ingredient Fact Sheets
- National Pesticide Information Center Fact Sheet: Glyphosate
- National Pesticide Information Center Fact Sheet: 2,4-D
- National Pesticide Information Center Fact Sheet: Bifenthrin
- National Pesticide Information CenterFact Sheet: Lambda-Cyhalothrin
- Neonicotinoid Pesticide Toxicity Profile, University of Florida
- Pyrethroid Pesticide Toxicity Profile, University of Florida
- Iowa Chemical Use Survey, Soybeans
- Iowa Pesticide Poisoning Surveillance Program FAQs
- Increases in Insecticide Use
- Symptoms of Pesticide Poisoning
- USDA Chemical Use Survey, Corn