For farmers or agricultural workers, pesticide application may be necessary in order to keep unwanted weeds, pests, and insects at bay.
However, a risk that comes with the application of pesticides is that at times, the pesticide leaves the intended target area and ends up causing harm to people, plants, animals, and even other properties.
What is Pesticide Drift?
Pesticide drift, also known as spray drift, is the unintentional movement of pesticide droplets through the air during or after pesticide application which spreads the chemicals beyond its intended target area.
Pesticide drift is unpredictable because a number of factors including wind direction, temperature, and the size of a pesticide droplet may all cause the liquid particles to drift away from the intended area of application.
When spray drift occurs, the pesticide is not reaching its intended target. Therefore, any potential benefit from the pesticide application is reduced. But if you think that only your crop yield will be affected by the chemical drift, you’re wrong.
Pesticide drift can also pose a number of risks to people, animals, and plants.
A certain herbicide has been recently named in many lawsuits filed in the United States. The Paraquat herbicide, a popular weed killer that is widely used by farmers and agricultural workers, has been linked to pesticide poisoning and a risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
The first Paraquat lawsuit was filed in behalf of the farmers and agricultural workers who subsequently developed Parkinson’s disease after being exposed to the chemical in their workplace.
And just like with some pesticides, residue from this herbicide can also reach unsuspecting people who live near farms and put them at risk for exposure.
What are the Effects of Pesticide Drift?
The spray drift from pesticide applications can cause accidental pesticide exposure to humans and animals. Pesticide residue can also affect the environment, non-target plants, and can even cause damage to your neighbor’s property.
In some states in the U.S., pesticide drift is considered a violation of the law and may lead to fines, legal actions, and litigation.
This is why whether you are a pesticide applicator, farmer, agricultural worker, grower, or a neighbor, it is important to learn about spray drift and its potential adverse health and environmental effects.
Negative Effects to Pesticide Applicators
For a pesticide applicator, the potential negative effect of pesticide drift is the decrease in crop yield due to your crop not getting the full benefit from an adequate amount of pesticide it should be having.
Pesticide applicators should also be wary of possibly damaging their neighbor’s property through spray drift, as penalties for a violation of pesticide application can range from warning letters to regulatory fines of $750 to $10,000, along with the risk of losing your license as an applicator.
Risks to Neighbors of a Pesticide Applicator
If your neighbor is a specialty grower, even small amounts of pesticide can damage their crops, especially in products like flowers and fruits where appearance is very important.
Furthermore, a neighbor that grows organic crops can be negatively affected, as they keep their certification by keeping their fields pesticide-free for a couple of years. And while pesticide residue may not void their certification, any potential damages to the next growing season may do just that.
Potential Health Effects of Spray Drift
Pesticide spray drift can pose a number of health risks to people, especially to children who are more vulnerable to the toxic effects of pesticides.
When a pesticide drift incident occurs, the chemicals could potentially be inhaled, absorbed by the skin, or land in the eye. Some symptoms include eye, nose, or throat irritation, burning sensation, wheezing, coughing, or rash.
Chances that the pesticide drift will result into more serious side effects and complications largely depend on the amount of pesticide that entered the body and the type of pesticide involved, as different kinds of pesticides can affect different systems in the body.
Health effects may also occur immediately, while some may develop years after pesticide exposure. In cases of high amounts of exposure, pesticides can potentially cause long-term adverse health effects, including:
- developmental delay in children
- reproductive disorders
- lung scarring
- birth defects
- heart failure
- kidney failure
- neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease
Factors Affecting Pesticide Drift
Pesticide drift can occur in various forms of pesticide aplication, including ground sprayers, agricultural airplanes, irrigation systems, or airblast sprayers.
In general, there are a number of factors that play a role in the creation of drift. They include:
The overwhelming factor that influences spray drift is droplet size. Small droplets are considered desirable when applying insecticides and fungicides because they provide better coverage. However, due to its small size and light weight, small droplets do not have enough mass to drop and get deposited on the target.
Instead, what happens is that they remain airborne and drift longer distances because they are exposed to air movement longer compared to larger droplets.
Wind Speed and Direction
Wind speed and wind direction are the two most important weather factors influencing spray drift. Sadly, no applicator can control these. High wind speeds can move droplets away from the target.
Drift potential is at its lowest at wind speeds from 3 to 10 miles per hour, when wind blows safely in a direction that is away from sensitive areas.
Under any given spray situation, the abovementioned factors may immensely affect the occurence of spray drift, but ultimately, an applicator’s attitude and skill will determine how he can take precautions to avoid drift from happening.
It is the applicator’s responsibility to minimize concerns to neighbors and to the environment by determining if there are any sites near the application area which will potentially be at risk of exposure to pesticides.
These may include organic fields, sensitive crops, bodies of water, groundwater, schools, nursing homes, and hospitals. Reading the pesticide label is also very important to see if the product has indicated warnings or environmental hazards. Applicators should follow the label instructions as they are intended to minimize the risk of exposure when working with pesticides.
In Case of Pesticide Exposure
If you suspect that you have been exposed to pesticides and are experiencing symptoms related to pesticide exposure, seek medical attention right away.
Remove your clothes and shoes or anything that may possibly have traces of pesticides and keep them in an air tight container. Do not wash them immediately. It is also important that you know when and where the exposure occurred, and what particular symptoms you have experienced.
You can also try calling the National Poison Control Centers (1-800-222-1222) which can be reached from anywhere in the United States. This national toll-free hotline will get you in touch with experts in poisoning who can give you further instructions.
The main key to surviving exposure to these chemicals is prompt and appropriate medical treatment.The longer the time has passed since the exposure, there is an increased risk of toxic effects being heightened.