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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Blitz winner helping understand how pesticides get into farm worker homes

A UA student’s research is contributing to the reduction of pesticide impacts on farm workers in Yuma.

Depending on their ingredients and how often people are exposed to them, pesticides can have some detrimental effects. Pesticide exposure has been linked to brain cancer and said to lower IQ levels and takes a substantial toll on pregnant women and children that are exposed prenatally, said Anastasia Sugeng, an environmental health sciences graduate student whose work on the topic garnered first place in the 2011 Environmental Grad Research Blitz. The competition showcased UA graduate students’ environmental research.

Sugeng focused on how pesticides get into the homes of farm workers in Yuma, where roughly 45 percent of the residents work in agriculture, she said.

“If a parent works with a certain type of pesticide in the field, we can see that in their child’s urine. We know pesticides are getting into their homes,” Sugeng said. “What’s uncertain is how.”

Workers bringing pesticides home on their hands and clothes could be one way the pesticides get in, Sugeng said. Others include pesticide spray drifting into homes through the air or via the soil, which can cause contamination during a dust storm.

“We need to pay attention to the whole picture,” Sugeng said. “In terms of research for the air pathway, not much has been done. It’s much more significant than people are realizing.”

Awareness campaigns, using better air filters and developing methods for pesticide growers to ensure dangerous material doesn’t end up in a worker’s house or the food consumers eat are methods to combat the problems. Yuma exports cotton and alfalfa, and is the winter lettuce capital of the world, Sugeng said.

“Unless you actually implement changes, the research doesn’t mean a whole lot,” she said.

Vivien Lee, another environmental health sciences graduate student, received honorable mention in the Environmental Grad Research Blitz for studying a disease called Schistosomiasis that is contracted when skin is exposed to parasites found in water. Agricultural workers and children living in rural, underdeveloped countries are most at risk for infection, according to a press release.

The master’s program in environmental health sciences has only existed for two years, so Sugeng and Lee winning top prizes is a testament to the program’s potential impact on the UA’s environmental research, said Paloma Beamer, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, Sugeng’s faculty adviser and Yuma research collaborator.

Sugeng is still analyzing the data, but said she hopes her research contributes to long-term improvements to the living conditions of farm workers and their communities, especially women and children.

“We tend to think about pesticides only from a consumer point of view,” she said. “A lot of times we forget about the farm workers and how risky their profession really is.”

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