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Assessment of chemical exposure and self-reported health among tree planters in British Columbia Gorman, Melanie Johanna


In British Columbia harvested forests are manually replanted by seasonal workers. Fertilizers contained in perforated paper sachets are often planted with seedlings. There have been anecdotal reports of skin and respiratory illness associated with fertilizer exposure and due to potential metal content in fertilizer source material they may contain metals as contaminants. Workers may also be exposed to pesticide residues on seedlings. This study aimed to characterize fertilizer, metal and pesticide exposure among a sample of B.C. tree planters, and to examine worker respiratory and dermal health. Between May 2006 and April 2007 223 tree planters were interviewed about their respiratory and dermal health, and the exposures of 54 tree planters at five geographically-disperse worksites were monitored. Four worksites were using fertilizer and one was not. The health questionnaire was a modification of the American Thoracic Society standardized questionnaire with questions on dermal health taken from a previous UBC study. Workers were grouped in exposure categories and symptoms analysed using logistic regression. Metals were measured by ICP/MS on post shift hand wipes, full shift air sample filters, in whole blood, bulk soil, seedling root balls, and fertilizer samples. Pesticides were measured on post shift hand wipes and on bulk seedling samples. Using nursery pesticide application records, analyses focused on known pesticides applied to the seedlings at the study sites. Carbamate pesticides were analyzed by HPLC/MS and other pesticides by GC/MS. No evidence was found that tree planters who work with fertilizer are at an elevated risk of exposure to arsenic, lead, cadmium, chromium and nickel relative to other tree planters. Pesticide residues were found on seedlings taken from coastal work sites in April 2007. At coastal worksites the fungicides chlorothalonil and iprodione were found on the skin of workers at low levels (range 0.37 – 106.3 ng.cm² and 0.48 – 15.9 ng/cm² respectively). Work with fertilizer was linked with an increased risk of cough, phlegm, nasal symptoms, nose bleed, and skin irritation. Hygiene conditions at tree planting work sites are very poor. Although measured exposures were low, hygiene conditions should improve to reduce the risk of health symptoms among tree planters.

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