Pesticide Injuries And First Aid
The various types of
pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc.) are formulated to
control target pests; however, their toxic nature can make them harmful
to people and animals.
Toxicity is the potential a substance has to poison humans, animals, or
plants. A wide range of toxicities exists among pesticides, and many can
be deadly if encountered in the necessary amount. Small amounts of certain
pesticides can cause damage to the human body. For example, insecticides
are formulated to kill insects by attacking certain body systems, and
they may attack that same system in a human.
If someone does suffer
ill effects from an accidental exposure to pesticides, his or her symptoms
probably will fall into three general categories: heightened sensitivity,
acute illness, or chronic illness.
sensitivity is an allergic reaction on an area of skin. Over time,
a pesticide handler may develop an allergy to a chemical he/she has worked
with for several years. A rash may develop on any area of skin that contacts
the chemical. Another type of sensitivity is called photosensitivity.
In this case, pesticide residues left on the skin react with sunlight
to form rash-like areas. Photosensitive reactions on children whose fathers
worked with pesticides have been mistaken for and reported as child abuse.
(Since the reddened area burned and was in the distinct shape of an adult
hand, school and health-care officials were sure the child had been beaten.)
appearing shortly after the exposure, is a common type of pesticide injury.
Acute injuries are the immediate or near-immediate effects of accidental
swallowing, skin contamination, or breathing toxic fumes. A skin contamination
that is ignored or not dealt with in time may cause a skin rash in the
exposed area. Often, sores or boils may appear shortly after a pesticide
has come in contact with the skin.
a pesticide or inhaling the fumes can cause a loss of consciousness and
death. Although loss of consciousness and death are usually associated
with swallowing or breathing the pesticide, they can be the result of
an extreme skin contamination that was not washed or treated properly.
The less common form
of injury due to pesticide poisoning is chronic (long-term) injury.
This type injury may require weeks, months, or even years after the initial
exposure to the pesticide to develop symptoms. Chronic illnesses from
pesticides may result in tumors or various cancers. However, over time,
frequent minimal exposures to a pesticide can build up in the body and
cause an acute reaction, e.g., an attack on the nervous system or lung
failure. For these reasons, a pesticide handler must prevent exposures
to a pesticide even if there are no visible signs of poisoning.
Blood enzyme tests can
determine if you have any pesticide buildup in your body. An enzyme, cholinesterase,
is contained naturally in the blood at levels that vary from one person
It is important to establish an enzyme "baseline" at a time of
the year when pesticide handling is minimal (January or February). The
baseline helps determine the level of cholinesterase normal for you. Other
tests throughout the year indicate what types of danger another exposure
could set off. See your doctor to set up a test for your cholinesterase
It is important to recognize
the symptoms of chemical poisoning before irreversible damage occurs. Symptoms
of pesticide poisoning are listed below
of swallowed and inhaled pesticides are generally the same, but inhalation
may hurry the effects of poisoning, which include:
- Muscle twitching
If any of these symptoms
appear, the victim must receive medical treatment. Delays after the symptoms
appear cost valuable time and could mean the difference between life and
you or a fellow worker accidentally be exposed to a pesticide, it is critical
you know first aid procedures to avoid additional dangers. Handling a
pesticide poisoning situation wisely can lessen the effects of the exposure
and possibly could save your life or that of a co-worker.
The first and most
important step in first aid happens before anyone is exposed to a pesticide.
That is, you must read and understand the pesticide label to know
what the risks are and to be able to act accordingly. Labels provide information
on preventing accidents, and the labels provide necessary steps to follow
should there be an accident involving chemicals.
for one type of pesticide poisoning may aggravate or increase the harmful
effects of a different chemical. The only way to know which treatments
are helpful and which may be harmful is to read the label before a
- Pinpoint pupils
- Blurred vision
- Excessive tearing
- Tightness in chest
- Rapid heartbeat
- Elevated blood
- Reddening of skin
- Abdominal cramps
- Muscle twitching
- Muscle weakness
Swallowing a pesticide
is a serious situation. The decision you must make with this accident is
whether or not to induce vomiting. Again, read the label and get immediate
care for the victim:
- If pesticide is
still in the mouth, wash it out with plenty of water.
- Quickly but accurately
read the First Aid section of the label again to see if the swallowed
chemical should be diluted. When swallowed, some chemicals should be
diluted with water or milk. Other chemicals should never be diluted;
again, the label provides the information.
- Check to see if
vomiting should be induced. If vomiting is to be induced, turn the victim
so that he/she is kneeling forward and does not choke. Ipecac syrup
can be used to induce vomiting. If it is not available, put your finger
in the victim's mouth and touch the back of the victim's throat.
Do not use salt water to induce vomiting or attempt to give liquids.
- Do not induce vomiting
if the victim is unconscious, because the victim could choke.
- First aid for some
chemicals includes giving activated charcoal after vomiting. (Activated
charcoal adsorbs many poisons and is available without a prescription.
It is a powder mixed with water and given to the victim to drink.) Do
not give activated charcoal and ipecac syrup at the same time; the charcoal
adsorbs the syrup, and any good effects are wasted.
- Keep the victim
calm and take him/her to the hospital. Also take the product label and
any Material Safety Data Sheets you have about the swallowed pesticide.
An inhaled pesticide
presents a different problem but is just as serious. Breathing a pesticide
can hurry the effects of poisoning--quick action is a must.
- Get the victim
to fresh air.
- Calm the victim,
and have him/her lie down.
- An inhaled pesticide
can cause convulsions, so protect the victim's head if convulsions
- Keep the victim's
air passage clear. Tilt the head back to keep the passage open. Remove
any foreign object or matter from the victim's mouth.
- If the victim stops
breathing, begin artificial respiration and continue until he/she breathes
again or until you reach the hospital. (A Red Cross course is helpful
in learning CPR.)
The hands and forearms
account for 95 percent of all skin exposures. Usually these exposures are
caused by splashes or spills that occur while mixing the chemicals.
If a chemical gets
on your skin:
- Immediately remove
all contaminated clothing;
- Wash the exposed
area with generous amounts of water and soap;
- Use a brush and
soap to remove residues from under your fingernails;
- If your hair is
contaminated, shampoo well;
- Put on fresh, clean
- See a physician.
Whenever the pesticide
application is completed or interrupted for a time, follow these same steps
whether or not you were accidentally exposed. Follow the same steps before
going home. Do not expose your family to the pesticides you have used during
the day. (A child's skin is more sensitive to chemicals than is an adult's.)
If you splash any chemical
into your eyes, immediately
wash out your eyes with plenty of cool,
clean water. Wash at least 15 minutes to help prevent eye damage. Some chemicals
can permanently damage or even blind you in less than 2 minutes. For just
such emergencies, set up an eyewash station or keep an eyewash bottle in
your first aid kit. Do not wash out the eyes with any water containing drugs,
because this could aggravate the situation. Seek medical attention immediately.
Hospital or Doctor's Office
Remember to take the
pesticide label to the medical staff, because the label contains specific
instructions for doctors to use in treating poisoning emergencies. It can
be difficult to run medical tests to determine in a short time the type
of chemical exposure the victim has experienced. These tests use valuable
time that could be used to treat the victim.
You need to have a well-stocked
first aid kit to use in case of a pesticide poisoning or any other medical
emergency. Consult the following list to check your first aid kit or, if
you are starting from scratch, to make up an emergency first aid packet.
- Eyewash bottle
- Plenty of clean
- Syrup of ipecac
- Activated charcoal
- Disposable towels
- Clean change of
All pesticides have the
potential to cause bodily harm, but used properly, they pose no special
hazard. Always read the label and follow all instructions when using
Before using any
Read the label
support for this publication is provided by Mississippi Department of Agriculture
and Commerce, Bureau of Plant Industry, and U.S. Environmental Protection
By Herbert Willcutt, Extension Agricultural Engineer, and Trent Spencer, Program Assistant, Extension Agricultural Engineering.
State University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color,
religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, or veteran status.
Extension Service of Mississippi State University, cooperating with U.S.
Department of Agriculture. Published in furtherance of Acts of Congress,
May 8 and June 30, 1914. Ronald A. Brown, Director
Copyright by Mississippi
State University. All rights reserved.
This document may be copied and distributed for nonprofit educational purposes
provided that credit is given to the Mississippi State University Extension